French Airport Vocabulary

Instructor: AJ Dana-Yoblonski

Dual citizen of France and Canada. Journalist - French print media (L'Obs, Paris Match, Le Parisien, ...) / Private tutor (grammar: English, French, Latin; literature) / Institutional communications officer

An airport is one of the few places where you can hear several languages at the same time. Although staffers usually speak English, you may encounter someone who doesn't. Here is all you need to know to make communicate in French at an airport.

You're at the airport in Lyon, on your way home back to Toronto. Of course, because your hosts in Lyon are very chatty and wouldn't let you go without a lengthy, emotional goodbye, you're late. And you're about to miss your plane, which would be a catastrophe considering your boss is expecting you at a very important meeting tomorrow. With Christmas coming, the airport is overflowing with people. You stop the first staffer you see and ask them for directions in English. But the staffer, a 16-year-old intern, just nods his head and says:

  • Je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites: I don't understand what you're saying.

Don't panic. We've got this covered.

The basics

Let's start with a few simple words:

  • Passeport: passeport (don't pronounce the -t)
  • Avion: airplane
  • Décollage (say day-ko-la-je): take-off
  • Atterrissage (say a-teh-ri-sa-je): landing
  • Aéroport (say: a-ay-ro-por): airport
  • Gauche (say go-ch) - Droite (say dro-wha-t): left - right
  • Devant (say dö-von) - derrière (say deh-ri-eh-r): in front or ahead - behind
  • Une valise / des valises (pronounced the same, singular or plural): a suitcase / suitcases
    • You can also say: un bagage / des bagages (say ba-ga-je): a suitcase / luggage

Your itinerary at the airport: when you arrive

First and foremost, because of the numerous gifts you're bringing back from France, you'll want a cart: un chariot.

Once you enter the airport, look for your check-in desk, comptoir d'enregistrement (say: kont-whar d-on-re-gis-tre-mon). Literally, it means 'registration desk', referring to the fact that you're going to register your valises into cargo.

Once you get to the comptoir d'enregistrement, the agent will ask:

  • for your passport: votre passeport
  • for your booking number: votre numéro de réservation (say ray-ser-va-ssion)
  • how many suitcases you wish to check-in: combien de valises souhaitez-vous enregistrer?
  • if you have any hand luggage: avez-vous un bagage à main? (say ba-ga-je à-man)

Once all of this is done, along with your passport and hand luggage, you should have your boarding pass (carte d'enregistrement). Pay attention to the gate number (porte d'embarquement) the agent will give you.

Next step: passport control and security check

Get in the line-up (queue, pronounced kö) for the passport control. There should be a line-up for non-European passports holders (détenteurs de passeports hors zone Euro). The police officers should then examine your passport and stamp it. They might only ask you what your destination is: quelle est votre destination?.

Then comes the security check. But time is a-wasting, and you're already late for boarding. You can ask one of the agents to skip the line-up and hope they allow you to do so:

  • Excusez-moi (say ehx-ku-zay mwah), mon avion va décoller (say day-ko-lay), puis-je passer devant?
    • 'Pardon me, my plane is about to take off. Can I skip some of the line-up?'

Let's say the agent is in a good mood and let's you do so: you will have to take all electronics and liquids out of your hand luggage. In any case, one of the security agents will ask you if you have any of the following in your hand luggage:

  • matériel électronique: electronics
  • liquides au-delà de cent millilitres: liquids over 100 millilitres (which are forbidden).
  • quelque chose dans vos poches: something in your pockets

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