Deltas 802

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 26 14:25:06 UTC 2010

Yesterday I received the following query from Ask-a-Linguist:

"I'm an airline pilot. I frequently hear other pilots add an ''s'' to
their airline call sign if their airline ends in an ''a.'' For
example, a pilot will say ''Cleared for takeoff, Deltas 802'' instead
of ''Cleared for takeoff, Delta 802.'' The same is true with my
company, Mesaba. Some say ''Mesabas'' instead of ''Mesaba.'' I think
the sentence flows better with adding the ''s,'' but I can't find any
linguistic reason why people do it. Answer?"

I suggested that the -s might be a genitive bu-t then it should occur
with any airline name.  Perhaps the -s is an alternative to the
elliptical noun phrase "Delta (flight) 802, but, once again, that does
not explain why it occurs only with airline names ending in <a>.  I
asked him if he knew of airlines ending in <y> or <o> and whether he'd
heard the -s with them as well.  I haven't heard back from him yet.

I'd be interested in other interpretations of "Deltas 802."


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