It’s hard to find the joy in air travel these days. Even if you do make it through check-in and security, and finally get on the plane, there’s always a chance you’ll get stuck on the runway. This summer, come prepared. Study up on what all those airport signs mean, and if you’re stuck on the runway, you can kill time by impressing your friends and families with your newfound knowledge.
First things first: a runway is where airplanes takeoff and landing. Taxiways are like the streets that connect the terminal and the various runways, planes drive along them when traveling from one place to another. It’s easy to tell them apart at night, too, because runways are lined with white lights, and taxiways are lined with blue lights.
When your plane is moving along a taxiway in hot pursuit of a runway to take-off on, the most common signs you’ll see marking the maze of asphalt that run behind airports are black and yellow and have numbers or letters on them. Letters denote taxiways, while numbers indicate runways, according to the FAA’s helpful chart.
If you see a black sign with a yellow letter “B” on it, that means you’re on taxiway B. For instance, if you see a black sign with the number 22, your plane is parked on runway 22. The signs usually also include directions to other taxiways, using arrows to point the way. Those signs are yellow with black lettering and an arrow pointing the way. So a yellow panel with a C and an arrow pointing left, means that a pilot looking for taxiway C needs to hang a left.
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Here’s where things gets a bit complicated: according to the FAA, the signs must always be on the left side of the taxiway before the intersection, so the pilot can see the signs and know where to turn the massive plane she’s driving. The signs are arranged from left to right based on their location, clockwise, in the intersection.
Just like when you’re driving a car, the red signs that dot the side of the runways and taxiways mean stop (although in planes they call it a “hold position”). Like on the city streets, those red signs indicate an intersection between runways or taxiways, according to The Points Guy.
That means pilots need to stop their planes and wait until they get the all-clear from airport ground control to cross to make sure they aren’t getting in the way of an airplane trying to take-off. A red sign with the numbers 11-17 means that Runway 11 is on the left, while Runway 32 is on the right.
If you spot a black sign with white letters, they indicate the distance remaining for take-off and landing. They run along the sides of runways at 1000-foot increments and could show passengers how long it will be until take-off. A welcome sign to anyone stuck on a plane during a delay.