Deadheading (aviation)

Deadheading (aviation)

In aviation, deadheading is a term used when members of an airline's flight staff are carried free of charge but not working. This most often happens when airline crew are located in the wrong place and need to travel to take up their duties. This is also known as "positioning".

The etymology of the expression is unknown, but aviation experts say the term originated "when trains were hauling cattle, if one morted out enroute, it was known as a dead head (as in "head" of cattle), as opposed to live stock. Trains only got paid for carrying the live ones."[1]

Confidence trickster Frank Abagnale impersonated a pilot and supposedly deadheaded on more than 250 flights.[2]

The term deadhead also applies to the recipients of free tickets to theaters, cinemas, concerts, or trains.[3] For example, in the theatrical context, an usher might count the empty seats remaining after a play has started, and then allow people in free of charge to fill them. The purpose behind "deadheading" in this context is to provide a full theater for the actors and to increase the audience's overall responsiveness to the performance.[citation needed]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Skywayman: The Story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr., by Rachel Bell,
  3. ^ Brewers Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 16th edition. London: Cassell, 1999.

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