I just landed at LAX and the flight attendant (who had a slight Latino accent, but was a native or near-native English speaker) gave the last announcement:

"As we prepare to land please have cups and other items ready to throw away, as we're going to make one last pass through the cabin at which time." Full stop.

There were several such utterances during the flight which ended with "at which time," each of which was clearly meant to signify "at this time." Is this a common usage in a variety of English I'm unfamiliar with, or is it more likely to be this one speaker's quirk?

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    I would call it a quirk of that speaker. – Hot Licks Dec 28 '15 at 21:28
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    (Most likely the speaker heard the phrase used in a different context and felt it sounded "high class", not realizing it was not appropriate in this situation. And no one has bothered to correct her, or she has ignored such attempts.) – Hot Licks Dec 29 '15 at 0:01

This article at Englishpage.net says of at which time

It functions as a conjunction.

This is, I'd say, its only normal role with the 'at the time specified' sense†, so it requires a sensible main clause to follow it.

The hotel closed for two weeks last February, at which time essential repairs were carried out.

*The hotel closed for two weeks last February, essential repairs being carried out at which time.


The hotel closed for two weeks last February, and/when essential repairs were carried out.

*The hotel closed for two weeks last February, essential repairs being carried out and/when.

†As Jesse Sielaff wisely points out, usages like

"I need to keep track of which event happens at which time"

'At which time is it best to phone you?'

where the sense is 'when[?]', complicate the picture. These are adverbial usages.

  • @Jessie Sielaff You're quite right. This is an acceptable adverbial usage (and the interrogative 'At which time of the day does Joseph have his nap?' is also obviously acceptable). The sense of which is as the interrogative wh-word here, rather than the 'at the time specified' sense. I'll amend my answer. Thank you. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '15 at 16:23

But in your example, "at which time" doesn't mean "at this time." This refers to the proximate; that refers to the distant; which refers to its antecedent. In the context of contemporaneous direct speech, the proximate refers to the time of speaking. The standard "one last pass through the cabin" will occur shortly, presumably after the attendant stops talking. We know this because the attendant says "we're going to." Presently, the attendant will say

The captain has just turned off the seatbelt sign, and at this time you may leave your seats and retrieve your luggage from the overhead bins.

This isn't an invitation to travel back in time a few moments to get up; it means you can get up as the attendant speaks.

So the attendant can talk about that time just mentioned:

... as we're going to make one last pass through the cabin, and at that time [you may dispose of your trash].

of save the conjunction:

... as we're going to make one last pass through the cabin, at which time [you may dispose of your trash].

  • The temporal phrase 'at this time' refers to the time period most recently specified, not necessarily the time of speaking: here, to '[a]s we prepare to land' (coincidentally the same). 'Churchill was preparing for the worst at this time.' – Edwin Ashworth Dec 28 '15 at 23:57
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes, and when you're speaking and you say "at this time," the time most recently specified is right now. Which is why the attendant didn't use this, lest the passengers immediately start juggling their trash. This is different from reporting actions in the historical present, say, about Churchill's war preparations. – deadrat Dec 29 '15 at 0:07
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    @JesseSielaff Don't think so. I've sat through enough flights and such announcements to understand that "we're going to" means that shortly attendants will be passing down the aisle to collect trash. When they do, then the juggling begins. Nobody is picking up the trash just yet as the attendant speaks. – deadrat Dec 29 '15 at 0:14
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    'The latter means right now' is imprecise. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '15 at 16:36
  • @EdwinAshworth The latter of "at which time" and "at this time" is "at this time." – deadrat Dec 29 '15 at 19:37

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