How to Figure Out What Type of Plane You’re Flying In

The type of plane you fly on can affect everything from how much luggage space you’ll have to how you can pick the best seat.

Front view of aircraft parked a gate

Looking up your aircraft model before your flight can help you travel smarter.

Photo by Jaruek Chairak/Shutterstock

There are several reasons why it can be useful to know what type of airplane you’ll be flying on when you make your flight reservation. You might simply be wondering what the seat configuration will be, or maybe you want to know whether you were scheduled to fly on a Boeing 737 Max aircraft following the recent grounding of Boeing 737-9 Max planes after a harrowing Alaska Airlines flight involving a plug door that blew out earlier this month.

Other reasons it could help to know? Well, many of the smallest turboprop and regional jet aircraft (or even narrow-body and sometimes midsize planes, too) might make you gate-check your TSA-approved carry-on bags due to more limited storage space in the main cabin. So, if there’s another aircraft option available, you might want to choose a larger commercial jet that will have bigger overhead bins to store luggage. The same goes for seat layout: Maybe a larger airplane will have more (and possibly better) seating options, whether you want to upgrade, simply have more space, or to be able to sit all together as a family.

Whatever you’re reason for wanting to know, here’s how to figure out what type of plane you’ll be flying in.

How to know what type of airplane you’ll be flying on

Nearly every airline in the world lists the type of aircraft that flights will be using during the booking process—you’ll typically find airplane information displayed just below the flight details when selecting your flights. Start by doing a search for your origin and destination airports and preferred dates to find out what type of planes fly each route.

Similarly, when you search for a flight using a travel search engine such as Google Flights, the exact airplane model will be listed below each listed flight segment, in smaller type, alongside the airline operating the flight.

Five years ago, travel booking site and app Kayak added an aircraft option to its filters, and the company reported that it saw an uptick in usage of that filter following the Alaska Airlines incident in January 2024. Specifically, users can filter to include or exclude certain aircraft models, including the Boeing 737-8 Max and the Boeing 737-9 Max planes for travelers who are concerned about flying on those models.

You can also find your airplane model using ITA Matrix

If the plane type is still unclear, type in your origin, destination, and date of travel on the ITA Matrix, a flight search engine. Once you find your flight, click on the details arrow to the far right to find out exactly what type of plane you’re booked on.

Airlines sometimes have schedule changes, especially for flights booked more than a few months in advance, which could change the time a flight takes off or the type of aircraft used. A day-of change of aircraft (or equipment, in airline lingo) is rare, unless there is a mechanical issue or weather delay that requires substituting a different plane. But it can—and does—happen.

Front view of an airplane on a runway at dusk

Today, the most common aircraft manufacturers that U.S. airlines contract with are Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, and Embraer.

Photo by Romeo Pj/Shutterstock

How to figure out the best seats based on the type of airplane

One of the biggest benefits of knowing your aircraft type in advance is that you can use it to pick the best possible seat—including the safest seat on the plane. While aircraft manufacturers typically use the same structure for each specific aircraft model, there are plenty of ways an airline can customize individual models when ordering a new plane. This can include things like engine types, the placement of galleys and lavatories, and the number and configuration of seats. For example, a low-cost airline may be more interested in packing in as many seats as possible while an international carrier may be more focused on including more premium seating. Some airlines even have different models of the same aircraft: Delta has several models of Boeing 767-300ER planes with different cabin configurations.

Try to search for the seat map on your own reservation page first to get an idea of the version of the plane you’re on, before heading to a seat map site. Once you know the exact aircraft type, search for it on websites like SeatGuru or SeatMaestro. These websites outline an entire airline’s fleet, and for some planes, there may be several configurations. This can help you avoid seats that are close to the bathroom or ones with a misaligned window (when there is no window next to your window seat or an off-center window that you can’t look through).

These websites also do a great job of describing the types of seats (lie-flat versus recliner seats in business class, for example) and their relative amenities. Does it have built-in entertainment screens? Will the plane have wireless internet? You can also figure out which seats may have limited recline or no under-seat storage.

Common types of airplanes for U.S. flights

The most common aircraft that U.S. passengers will fly on are those built by four main manufacturers: Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, and Embraer.

Unlike military aircraft, which are designed for high speeds and ultra-maneuverability in mind, passenger jets are crafted with (at least some) comfort in mind and to take on long-range journeys at slower speeds that are easier on the body.

When it comes to fleets, it varies from one airline to the next. Alaska Airlines exclusively flew with Boeing aircraft until it merged with Virgin America in 2016, which had an all-Airbus fleet. Alaska’s subsidiary Horizon Air mainly uses Bombardier planes. Delta had an all-Boeing fleet until it merged with Northwest in 2008 and began placing large orders with Airbus.

A white passenger airplane in cloudy sky, viewed from below

One of the biggest benefits of knowing your aircraft is that you can use it to pick the best possible seat.

Photo by muratart/Shutterstock

How are these types of planes different?

If you’re the type of person who likes to get on a plane and zone out for a few hours, then avoid older planes, which are often noisier. The single-aisle McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series flown by Delta will cocoon you in engine noise if you sit in the back of the plane, so make sure to bring headphones.

If you enjoy spotting landmarks from the sky, keep in mind that most Airbus planes are known for having smaller windows than Boeing planes, although the Airbus A350 was built with larger portholes. This makes it easier to see even if you are sitting on the aisle.

New aircraft types like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 are built using lighter composite materials, which allow them to burn less fuel. They’re also better for your skin: Used mostly on international flights, these models feature upgraded air ventilation and circulation systems that help hold the cabin pressure to numbers closer to what you might find on the ground. This can make passengers feel less dehydrated and, hopefully, less jet-lagged.

If you’re looking for a more spacious cabin, wide-body aircraft with two aisles are obviously larger. Sometimes, they also come with newer entertainment systems and are usually used for long-haul, international flights.

Are some planes better than others?

It depends on what exactly you’re looking for—if you want more legroom or extra luggage storage space, a wide-body plane like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would be a good option. If you must have an entertainment system to stay sane on a long-haul flight, a newer aircraft like an Airbus A220 might fit the bill.

Another thing to keep in mind: If you’re traveling to a remote area, it’s likely you’ll kick off your journey in a large, long-haul aircraft and finish it in a smaller transport aircraft or sometimes even a single-engine plane, depending on the destination. Be prepared to gate-check your larger carry-on luggage just in case.

How can I identify a plane just by looking at it?

If you want to be the type of person who can know the make and model of an airplane with only a cursory glance, here are a few starter tips. The most obvious plane to spot is the massive Airbus A380, which has two complete levels of windows that stretch from nose to tail. The Boeing 747 has a second level, but it only stretches from the cockpit to above the wings, making it look like it has a bubble on the front section of the plane.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350, both around the same size, have subtle nuances to help you distinguish them. The ends of the wings of the A350 have curly tips that point upward, while the Dreamliner’s wings angle slightly upward and, at the tip, are raked slightly to the back.

The Boeing 777 comes to a pinched, flat end at the very back beneath the tail, while the Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 have conical end points under the tail. All Airbus A330 and A340 planes have winglets, while 777s never do. Some Boeing 767 planes have had them added for better fuel efficiency, too.

And if you truly want to practice your plane spotting, book a room at one of these airport hotels for a view that rivals those of a control tower.

This story was originally published in April 2019 and was updated on January 17, 2024, to include current information.

Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.
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