Language and Cultural Differences in Communication

Kulula Plane Decorations

Above is an example of Interface Design — Kulula Airlines decorates its planes in a very playful manner. Does this choice make you feel safer or more reticent to fly their planes? Well, that depends…

Consider the FAA Passenger Briefing Guidelines: 14 CFR 91.519. Below are a few examples:

§ 91.519 Passenger briefing.

  • (a) Before each takeoff the pilot in command of an airplane carrying passengers shall ensure that all passengers have been orally briefed on:
    1. Smoking. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions smoking is prohibited. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that the Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with lighted passenger information signs and no smoking placards, prohibit smoking in lavatories, and require compliance with crewmember instructions with regard to these items;
    2. Use of safety belts and shoulder harnesses. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions it is necessary to have his or her safety belt and, if installed, his or her shoulder harness fastened about him or her. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with the lighted passenger sign and/or crewmember instructions with regard to these items;
    3. Location and means for opening the passenger entry door and emergency exits;
    4. Location of survival equipment;
    5. Ditching procedures and the use of flotation equipment required under § 91.509 for a flight over water; and
    6. The normal and emergency use of oxygen equipment installed on the airplane.
  • (b) The oral briefing required by paragraph (a) of this section shall be given by the pilot in command or a member of the crew, but need not be given when the pilot in command determines that the passengers are familiar with the contents of the briefing. It may be supplemented by printed cards for the use of each passenger containing—
    1. A diagram of, and methods of operating, the emergency exits; and
    2. Other instructions necessary for use of emergency equipment.
    3. Each card used under paragraph (b) must be carried in convenient locations on the airplane for the use of each passenger and must contain information that is pertinent only to the type and model airplane on which it is used.
  • (d) For operations under subpart K of this part, the passenger briefing requirements of § 91.1035 apply, instead of the requirements of paragraphs (a) through (c) of this section.

Obviously, there are different approaches to how an individual company and crew would execute these guidelines. Consider the following grouping:

A. We remind you that this is a non-smoking flight. Smoking is prohibited on the entire aircraft, including the lavatories. Tampering with, disabling or destroying the lavatory smoke detectors is prohibited by law.

B 1. Hello, This is your Captain Speaking. I just wanted to remind our passengers that there are no smoking on any of WestJet’s flights. Any passengers cought smoking will be escorted to our outdoor smoking lounge, where they will watch the movie, “Gone with the Wind.”

B 2. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing… If you can light ’em, you can smoke ’em.

A. Your seat bottom cushion can be used as a flotation device. Pull the cushion from the seat, slip your arms into the straps, and hug the cushion to your chest.

B. Your seat cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.

A. Please check around your seat for any personal belongings you may have brought onboard with you and please use caution when opening the overhead bins, as heavy articles may have shifted around during the flight.

B 1. As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses…

B 2. Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.

Are you a an A or a B kind of person? What makes you more comfortable?

Consider this: The A version of instruction creates a social distance between the person issuing the command and the passengers of the plane. On the other hand, the B version tries to equalize the social status of the crew and the passengers. Which is better? It might depend on your cultural background and even the language that you speak.

English is very good at equalizing the speakers. There’s no vu versus tu designating interpersonal social standing — everyone is equal under the English language. But other language enforce a strict social hierarchy. Passengers are below crew, who are below second pilot, who is below captain. In an emergency, social linguistic niceties might lead to catastrophic results. Read more here: Language, Culture, and Communication.