I Need to Learn My ABCs, How About You?


Calling to cancel a flight or make changes to a flight is never a fun experience. Did I confuse the cancellation rules? Will I have to beg to receive my miles back immediately? Why can’t the agent find my reservation? One of the biggest problems I face when calling the airline is the lack of clear communication. Too many times my phone has dropped the call right before the award is booked. Many times after waiting on hold for an eternity the agent will come on and claim that he can’t hear me then disconnects. Then there are the situations when the agent simply can’t understand what I am saying.

Besides blaming Sprint for lousy cell phone service, I also have to blame myself for not knowing the alphabet.

AgentCan I please have your confirmation number? 

Me: Yes it’s A as in apple, C as in cat, U as in, well you know U as in you, the number 4 and Z as in Zebra. 

Agent: That’s A as in Alfa, D from David, U like Uniform.

Me: No, C as in California. 

Agent: Can you please start from the beginning? 

Annoyed, I start again but this time I use different representations for each letter further confusing the poor agent.

Every time I’m on one of these calls, I promise myself that I will learn the uniform phonetic alphabet so I can communicate efficiently. Every time I forget to follow through. After this last call that took longer than it should have, I decided that enough was enough and looked up the code words for each letter.

To my surprise, N is not for Nancy but November. Z is not for Zebra but for Zulu. What is Zulu? I is for India not Igloo? How can Y be for Yankee and not Yellow? As a lover of John Daniels, I can appreciate that W is for Whiskey but can’t comprehend why F is for Foxtrot, J is for Juliett, and S is for Sierra. And shouldn’t X be for X to the Z Xzibit?

Instead of fighting it or the agent anymore, I’ve decided to learn it. One interesting point is that D is not for Delta in the aviation industry for obvious reasons which is why the agent said David.

For the illiterate among us, here is the full Nato phonetic alphabet. Let’s sing it together:

Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.

Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you cancel my flight for me?



  1. You can quiz yourself on it by listening to two-way radio – your local police/fire channels. Download something like the Scanner Radio app for your phone so you don’t have to buy an actual scanner.

  2. One of my biggest pet peaves is when professionals (professional call center employees?) use random words for the letters. M as in Mary?! Come on what do they teach in these call center schools. I always make a point of reading it back using the proper words. I’m sure they appreciate that.

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