Sunday, July 18, 2010

Return to the gates to let any passengers off ...

A Wall Street Journal story last Thursday -- on the state of the airways this summer, under the new cancellation rules -- included a phrase that was not at all ambiguous, but still managed to stop me cold.
Instead [of canceling flights], airlines have adapted with new procedures, flagging long-delayed flights, sending in help and returning planes to gates before the three-hour limit to let any passengers off and then continuing without canceling the flight.
"To let any passengers off" -- I can see that it's supposed to mean "to let off any passengers who want to get off." But that isn't the normal reading of "any passengers," is it? Ordinarily, it would mean "any remaining passengers," as in this reminiscence about a bus route: "It would stop at the top [of the street] to let off any passengers and then drive to the bottom, where it would wait until it was the scheduled time to leave." Same thing in the negative: "They would not let any passengers off the ferry" (all had to stay on).

Compare:

He inverted the pot to shake out any water (all remaining water).
She said the spray would repel any insects (all bugs within range).
They returned to the gate to let off any passengers (?).

There's no question that completing the thought explicitly -- "any passengers who want to get off -- seems wordy, and of course we allow shortcuts like this all the time in conversation. But they're far less common in print, and still a little jarring -- if only for editors and proofreaders like me, too well indoctrinated for our own reading pleasure.  

3 comments:

Kim said...

Just be grateful they didn't use the dreaded deplane!

Anonymous said...

Of course, they may have meant that the passengers were being returned to the gate to be excused, pardoned or detonated!

outerhoard said...

I don't see the problem. This is "let" in the sense "to provide an opportunity". They are, literally, letting each and every passenger off, which is to say, providing an opportunity for them to get off. That's what "let" means. The phrase "if they want to" adds little that isn't already said, because the opportunity extends to all.