Why does your aircraft type matter?
Unless you are a plane spotter, you may not be aware of the many types of aircraft that exist. You’ve probably heard of a Boeing, an Airbus or even a Dreamliner, but most travelers don’t know the difference between a 737 and a 777. Still, it can be useful to be aware of the type of aircraft when booking a flight. For example, it can often happen with the smaller aircraft models that you suddenly have to hand in your hand luggage at the gate because there is not enough space in the compartments. If you have the option, you can choose a larger plane, which usually has larger bins for storing luggage.
How do you find out what type of plane you are flying in?
1. Check your flight booking page
Almost all airlines in the world indicate the type of flight on the reservation page of their website. Search the airline’s website for the flight you want to book to find out in which type of aircraft this flight will be operated. Although each site is different, you can usually find the flight information in the flight details.
2. Search for the model on the ITA Matrix
If the flight type is still unclear, enter the departure airport, destination and planned date of travel into ITA Matrix, a flight search engine. Once you have found your flight, click on the price to see what type of aircraft is scheduled for this flight.
Airlines sometimes have schedule changes, especially for flights booked more than a few months in advance, which can change flight times or flight type. This does not happen often, but it is possible. A flight change rarely occurs close to the departure date, unless there is a mechanical problem or weather delay that requires the aircraft to be changed. Last-minute changes require extra work for airport staff to rearrange reserved seats. That is why the airlines try to prevent this.
What are the most famous aircraft types?
The most common Western aircraft manufacturers are Airbus, Boeing and Embraer. For example, KLM only flies with Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, Transavia uses only Boeing and Easyjet only flies with Airbus. Elsewhere, other airlines are popular: Tupolev, for example, is a Russian manufacturer, and its planes can now be found mainly in former Soviet countries.
How do the different aircraft types differ?
If you are planning a long flight, avoid older planes that are known for their noise. New aircraft types such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 are built with lighter composite materials so they use less fuel. They’re also better for your skin: typically used on international flights, they have improved air ventilation and circulation systems, making cabin pressure comparable to lower altitudes. This will make you feel less dehydrated and hopefully reduce jet lag.
If you like to spot landmarks from the air, keep in mind that most Airbuses have smaller windows than Boeing planes, although the Airbus A350 is built with larger ones. In the latter, you can even look out from the hallway.
If you’re looking for a more spacious cabin, two-aisle widebody planes are obviously bigger. Sometimes they also come with newer entertainment systems as they are mostly used for long-haul international flights.
I know the type of plane. How do I choose the best seat?
The biggest advantage of knowing your aircraft type is that you can use it to choose the best possible seat. While aircraft manufacturers usually follow the same format for building the structure of specific aircraft types, there are plenty of things an airline can customize when purchasing a new aircraft. This could include things like a specific engine type, where they plan to place galleys and toilets, and the number and configuration of seats. For example, a low-cost airline is more interested in placing as many seats as possible than offering special facilities such as bars and lounges on board.
Some airlines even have different models of the same aircraft with different layouts: for example, the American airline Delta has different models of the Boeing 767-300ER with different cabin configurations.
Try searching for the seat map on your own booking page to get an idea of the version of the plane you want to fly in before going to a seat map site.
Once you know the exact type of plane, you can find the best seat on sites like SeatGuru or SeatMaestro. These sites describe the fleet of an entire airline and for some aircraft there may be different configurations. This can help you avoid seats that are close to the bathroom or seats with a misaligned window (for example, there may be no window next to your seat, or a window may be offset, forcing you to bend forward or back to look outside).
These websites are also excellent at describing the types of seats (reclining or reclining seats in business class, for example) and their amenities. Are there built-in entertainment screens? Does the plane have wireless internet? You can also find out which seats have limited backrests or lack storage space under the seat.
Tracking aircraft? How to differentiate the models
The easiest plane to explore is the massive Airbus A380, which has windows over two floors that stretch from nose to tail. The Boeing 747 also has a floor, but it only extends from the cockpit to over the wings, giving the appearance of a bubble at the front of the plane.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350, both roughly the same size, have subtle differences. The tips of the A350’s wings curl together, while the Dreamliner’s wings slope slightly upwards and slope back slightly at the tip.
The Boeing 777 has a pinched flat end at the very rear under the tail, while the Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 have tapered end points under the tail. All Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft have so-called “winglets” – raised points at the wingtips, while 777s never do. Some Boeing 767 aircraft also added them for better fuel efficiency.
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