Code Red, PVIs and other emergency codes you're not supposed to know about

Some announcements, in airports and on cruise ships, signal a serious emergency. Others inform staff that a queasy passenger has thrown up on the top deck. Here we reveal the meaning behind the codes. 

Cruise ship codes

The announcement "Operation Bright Star" signals a medical emergency. "Operation Rising Star" means a passenger has passed away.

Of less concern would be a warning about a "PVI", which stands for "public vomiting incident", or "30-30", which is used by some cruise lines to ask for staff to assist with cleaning up a mess.  

You might also hear one of these other coded announcements on your next cruise or ferry trip (but hopefully not). They will vary according to your operator.

Code Red - Outbreak of norovirus or illness. It means the ship must undergo deep cleaning and sick passengers should stay in their rooms. Code Green and Code Yellow indicate less severe problems.

Mr Skylight; Alpha, Alpha, Alpha; Code Blue; or Star Code, Star Code, Star Code - Medical emergency

Mr Mob or Oscar, Oscar, Oscar - Man overboard

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie - Security threat

Echo, Echo, Echo - Possible collision with another ship, or in other cases a warning of high winds.


Red Parties, Red Parties, Red Parties; Alpha Team, Alpha Team, Alpha Team or Priority 1 - Possible fire on board

Bravo, Bravo, Bravo - Fire or other serious incident.

Delta - Damage to the ship.

Papa - Pollution or oil spill.

Sierra - Call for a stretcher.

Priority 2 - Leak.

Kilo - all staff to report to emergency posts. 

A fire or emergency may simply be indicated by a ringing of the general alarm bell. Seven or more short blast of the ship's whistle, followed by one long blast, means passengers should assemble at their muster stations.

Airport emergencies

Code Bravo is the code for a general security alert at an airport. Security officials will typically yell it at travellers, and may order them to "freeze!", to deliberately scare them and make it easier to pinpoint the source of the threat. More often than not, it will probably be a drill - as this amusing account explains.

Code Adam may be used to alert staff of a missing child.

Aircraft emergencies

We've all heard of Mayday, which means an aircraft or ship is facing imminent danger. Fewer will know about pan-pan (from the French:panne, meaning a breakdown), which refers to a slightly less grave danger.

7500 is a transponder code which means an aircraft has been, or is threatened with, hijacking.

7700 is a more general emergency code; 7600 indicated a radio failure.

Cabin crew jargon

On a lighter note, Charlotte Southcott, a flight attendant at Monarch Airlines, recently revealed some of the curious lingo used at 35,000ft:

Arm and crosscheck - Prior to departure, the plane exits are put into emergency mode. If an "armed" door is opened, the emergency slide will inflate. The cabin crew will "crosscheck" to ensure that the opposite doors have been armed. Upon arrival, you're likely to hear "doors to manual".

Debrief - Every little detail of every flight is recorded on the "debrief" - including medical situation, disruptive passengers or a catering problem.

Hat bin - Another term for the overhead bins ("Why are these called hatbins? Surely they're not used for hats? Well, in the 1960s, when flying was extremely glamorous, they actually were.")

Hot bit - The heated part of an in-flight meal.

Gash bag - The rubbish bag. ("Another military term, apparently if you were the gash man in the navy you got all the rubbish jobs").

Landing lips - "That last slick of lippie we apply to look fresh as a daisy before we land."

The Telegraph, London

See also: What happens when there's a medical emergency on a flight

See also: The four letters you really don't want to find on your boarding pass