Altitude or height? What difference there are?

“Good night, captain speaking. I welcome you on board and wish you a good flight. At this moment we are flying at 8,000 meters above the Atlantic Ocean and … ” ” … If you look out the window you will see that we are crossing the Andes flying at 9,800 meters high …”

These dialogues are invented but quite similar to what we hear in most international flights. Have you discovered the difference? In one sentence the word “is used altitude” and the other “high”. It is just one example, to define what is the difference between altitude and height.

While both words can be used but in the tourism and aviation language are not the same.

Altitude or height
Image Source: Google Image

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Vertical distance between the level of the aircraft and the average sea level.

For example: “The shelter is at an altitude of 2,500 meters, so we still have to raise enough to get to him,” “The satellite orbits at an altitude of 300 kilometers,” “The commander has just reported that we fly to a altitude higher than normal to avoid a storm front.”

To calculate the altitude, usually taken as reference the average sea level or sea level.

This point, however, is not constant due to tidal action and the differences by region. So each country often determine sea level according to a particular place and a particular time of year. The calculation of altitude in a country, therefore, it will be made based on said predetermined level.

The altitude is usually measured in meters or feet using an altimeter. So speaking of meters above sea level or meters. So we can say that the hotel is 400 meters above sea level.


Vertical distance between the level of the aircraft and a specific reference in the field.

With “high” then we define the distance between a given point on the surface: it may be the top of a mountain, the beach, the runway or bridge.

So when a plane flies over the sea, height and altitude match, but they are different when flying over a continent. In aerospace, therefore, these two terms should not be used interchangeably.

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Roger Walker

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