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How Do Airlines Choose Flight Numbers?  
User currently offlineJAAlbert From United States of America, joined Jan 2006, 1783 posts, RR: 1
Posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 6846 times:

How do airlines chose flight numbers? Is there any method to the decision or do they just choose whatever number appears available and stick with it?

It would seem to me that the most prestigious or exotic destination would get the numero uno spot -- there is a certain cache hearing the announcement (with a slight accent that you cannot place) saying "Flight One now boarding for Istanbul with connecting service to Hong Kong" (okay fiction but you get the point). Number two would be the return flight, no?

It doesn't seem the airlines do this, however. For instance UAL flights 1 and 2 are flights between IAH to HNL. So far so good, though HNL is not Istanbul or Hong Kong (I guess it once might have been). Flight 3 is between HNL and LAX. Flights 4 and 5 are IAH to LHR with a connection to New Orleans. Then Flight 6 is a 737 that flies from Guam to NRT (!?) What? Flight 7 is a 772 flying from NRT to IAH.

AA's flight 1 through 4 are flights between LAX and JFK. Entirely sensible I suppose. Flights 5-8 are between DFW and either HNL or OGG. But flight 9 is ORD - DUB then flight 10 is another LAX to JFK. (?)

It doesn't seem to make much sense. More importantly, the airlines miss an opportunity of creating a bit of mystique and adventure by marketing their flights using a consistent numbering system, especially flights 1 and 2.

Whaddya think?

15 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineBoeing773ER From United States of America, joined Dec 2011, 478 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 6806 times:

I just did a quick little search and US has flights 1-11 (with 4, 8, and 10 not being used) to run the PHX-ORD route.

Work Hard, Fly Right.
User currently onlineBMI727 From United States of America, joined Feb 2009, 16559 posts, RR: 27
Reply 2, posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 6779 times:

Quoting JAAlbert (Thread starter):
How do airlines chose flight numbers?

The short answer is however they want.

Quoting JAAlbert (Thread starter):
especially flights 1 and 2.

Those are traditionally the most prestigious routes.

There are sometimes a few "easter egg" flight numbers too. Like US and AA flights 1776 are flight to PHL. And Jetblue 777 is a BOS-LAS flight. United flights 88 and 888 both originate in Beijing based on the Chinese tradition with the number 8.

Why do Aerospace Engineering students have to turn things in on time?
User currently offlineCXfirst From Norway, joined Jan 2007, 3363 posts, RR: 1
Reply 3, posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 6755 times:

Most airlines start with a system, but as one gets flights, there might be a need for 4 digit flight numbers, and sometimes the initial system goes out the window, or they stay with a general system with exceptions.

SQ and EK have a very clear system.

For EK

Flights 1-199 are Europe bound and return (With Flight#1 being DXB-LHR)
Flights 200-299 are Americas bound and return
Flights 300-399 are East Asia/South East Asia bound and return
Flights 400-499 are Oceania bound and return
Flights 500-599 are India and Bangladesh bound and return
Flights 600-699 are Pakistan
Flights 700-799 are Africa bound and return
Flights 800-999 are Arabian Peninsula/Iran bound and return.

SQ have a similar system

Flights 1-99 are Americas Bound (With Flight#1 being SIN-HKG-SFO)
Flights 200-299 are Oceania Bound
Flights 300-399 are Europe Bound


From Norway, live in Australia
User currently offlineB738FlyUIA From Kazakhstan, joined Dec 2009, 557 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 6588 times:

Quoting BMI727 (Reply 2):
Those are traditionally the most prestigious routes.

Former Swissair (SR and not LX) had them starting at 100. Flight SR100 was the ZRH-JFK flight. And like CXfirst in Reply 3 they had them in same sections. Also BA at time of the Concorde had flight BA1 that was LHR-JFK. Today it's LCY-SNN-JFK with a A318CJ and eastbound JFK-LCY as BA2.

It very well can be that they change, for example SU (Aeroflot) has on the SVO-ZRH sector 2 daily flight. They where SU265/6 and SU 375/6. Since a couple of weeks it has changed to SU2390/1 (ex SU265/6) and SU 2392/3 (ex SU375/6). Why? I can only imagine reorganization!!

For Cargo OPS it's little different. Many have 4 digit flight numbers e.g. LH Cargo, SQ Cargo, EK Cargo.. But KE Cargo has 3 & 4 digits in there Flight Numbers. If they are logical like for Pax flights I can't say really!! But guess the Pax one's are more interesting. Maybe you have noticed if you listen to ATC that the Flight Nr. and Call Sign are not always identical!


User currently offline1stfl94 From United Kingdom, joined May 2006, 1455 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 6434 times:

Quoting BMI727 (Reply 2):
Quoting JAAlbert (Thread starter):
especially flights 1 and 2.

Those are traditionally the most prestigious routes

Precisely and the nature of that can vary greatly. BA1 & 2 were traditionally Concorde then the LCY service, but BMI 1 & 2 were for LHR-GLA as it was the first route they flew from LHR, not as glamorous but prestigious in those terms.

Most airlines are relatively logical when you look at the number, although BA seem to be reorganizing the Cityflyer numbers at the moment (traditionally they were BA8xxx where Cityflyer Express flights were, but the new ABZ and IOM flights have BA3xxx numbers)

User currently offlinedanfearn77 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2008, 1845 posts, RR: 8
Reply 6, posted (3 years 8 months 6 days 13 hours ago) and read 6342 times:

Thomson airways has a very clear way too. They have their base number first followed by the day number, then follwed by the flight number. So 24xx is a flight from MAN on Thursday for example. And 27xx would be a MAN flight on Sunday.

Eagles may soar high, but weasels dont get sucked into jet engines!
User currently offlineTupolev160 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 7, posted (3 years 8 months 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 5958 times:

JU assigns flight numbers according to magnetical directions, example a flight going somewhere straight South would be JU180, return flight JU181.
I thought all the airlines were doing the same. SU does it as well.

User currently onlineptrjong From Netherlands, joined Mar 2005, 4213 posts, RR: 16
Reply 8, posted (3 years 8 months 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 5954 times:

Quoting Tupolev160 (Reply 7):

Neat! Might well be a Soviet habit then.

But SU had more than 180 destinations I'm sure...

The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad (Salvador Dali)
User currently offlineTupolev160 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 9, posted (3 years 8 months 4 days 13 hours ago) and read 5844 times:

Well as in today's airlines, some flights using the same number mustn't have the same destination. If JU was to have 3 flights a day BEG-CDG then they would be numbered as:


General magnetic direction (24X - as for runways) being the basis.
For SU i know they would "double or triple the magnetic wheel". If the 24X numbers to a given direction are full, the flight will become SU480/481. However it is rare that 2 flights have exactly the same heading. Those are the examples. Charter and codeshare flights have a different system with 4-digits numbering.

User currently offlinebond007 From United States of America, joined Mar 2005, 5650 posts, RR: 8
Reply 10, posted (3 years 8 months 4 days 6 hours ago) and read 5773 times:

Quoting Tupolev160 (Reply 9):
Well as in today's airlines, some flights using the same number mustn't have the same destination. If JU was to have 3 flights a day BEG-CDG then they would be numbered as:


I guess you use a different compass than I do then!

As you can see, even with the best intentions, the 'logic' usually ends up being somewhat arbitrary. It sounds all good when you start it, but you soon need a gap that doesn't exist, and have to have a 'illogical' number anyway.


I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
User currently offlinegabrielchew From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2005, 3736 posts, RR: 9
Reply 11, posted (3 years 8 months 2 hours ago) and read 5430 times:

Not all airlines use #1/2 as their flagships routes....
LH 1 is Hamburg - Frankfurt
SK 1 is Lulea - Stockholm

As far as I could find, AZ, OK, IB, TG, TG, AF don't even have a flight #1

http://my.flightmemory.com/shefgab Upcoming flights: LHR-GRU-SCL-IPC-SCL-PUQ-SCL-CJC,IQQ-LPB,LIM-MAD-LHR,LGW-VLC-LGW-MLE
User currently offlineEIDL From Ireland, joined Apr 2012, 737 posts, RR: 0
Reply 12, posted (3 years 7 months 4 weeks 1 day 1 hour ago) and read 5327 times:

EI are all three digit (mainline) and 4 digit (charter and regional) and appear to like keeping the low numbers for "prestigious" flights

101/102 was used for DUB-DXB when they operated it, 104/105 is DUB-JFK which is their most prestigious current one.

Numbers are sequential for return pairs like most airlines, however there appears to be absolutely no logic after that.

FR has FR666 DUB-BHX which leads to some hilarity... and yet the same airline has no row 13!

User currently offlineAndrensn From New Zealand, joined Jun 2012, 105 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (3 years 7 months 4 weeks 23 hours ago) and read 5320 times:

What about subsidiaries?
NZ has three, Eagle Air, Mount Cook Airlines and Air Nelson with flight numbers in the 2000s 5000s and 8000s respectively
Cheers Andrensn

User currently offlinelarshjort From Denmark, joined Dec 2007, 1886 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (3 years 7 months 4 weeks 22 hours ago) and read 5292 times:

Quoting gabrielchew (Reply 11):
LH 1 is Hamburg - Frankfurt

As far as I'm aware is the HAM-FRA the LH route with most passengers. And it used to be several A300's a day, now it's flown 16 times daily with A321's. that is 3200 seats in each direction.


139, 306, 319, 320, 321, 332, 34A, AN2, AT4, AT5, AT7, 733, 735, 73G, 738, 739, 146, AR1, BH2, CN1, CR2, DH1, DH3, DH4,
User currently offlineBlueJuice From United States of America, joined Jun 2010, 358 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (3 years 7 months 3 weeks 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 5143 times:

The person who created AY666 has a sense of humor.

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