A complete guide to flight numbers
How do flights get their certain flight numbers, and how do you find your own flight number? Take a look at our guide and get the answers to the most common questions about flight numbers.
The biggest airlines in the world operate hundreds or flights daily, which makes it crucial to be able to differ between them. To do this, each flight is assigned a certain flight number. The flight numbers are also a crucial help for the Air Traffic Control to be able to organize the flights in the air.
How are the flight numbers built?
The flight number, or flight designator, consists of two characters and a number consisting of one to four digits. The flight number is the identification number for each flight, not to be mixed with the aircraft number, which identifies a specific airplane.
The two characters in the flight number are written in uppercase letters and have been assigned to each airline by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Some of the codes are an abbreviation for the airline’s name – for example American Airlines goes by AA, while United Airlines uses UA. Not all codes work like this though, since many abbreviations are already taken when new airlines keep emerging.
So far it’s all fairly easy to understand. The tricky part comes when it’s time to start deciphering the digit part of the flight number. How the numbers are chosen varies immensely between different airlines, and continues to modify all the time. The numbers are not chosen by random, but there are very few standardized rules when it comes to choosing them.
Overall, the flight numbers are designed by their destination. A common method for many airlines is to assign a flight headed north or east with even numbers, while south and westbound flights have odd numbered codes. For example the east headed flight with United Airlines between Houston and Tampa has been assigned the flight number UA642, while the American Airlines flight between Charlotte in the US and Cancún in Mexico has the odd flight number AA895 thanks to its southern direction.
Some airlines have also chosen to use an odd number for an outbound flight, while the reverse inbound flight has the following even number. If a destination is served several times a day by the same airline, the numbers normally increase during the day.
It also occurs that some airlines use flight numbers with just one or two digits for their long-haul and premium flights – for example British Airways have chosen to number their long-haul flight between London Heathrow and Singapore Airport BA11.
How do I find my flight number?
Your flight number can be found on your flight ticket and on your boarding pass. You will also receive it in the confirmation when you first book your flight.
Can a certain flight have several flight numbers?
Yes, this is possible thanks to codesharing. Codesharing means that the airlines co-operate and are able to sell seats on each other's flights. When doing this, the airline assigns the flight its own flight number, meaning that you can find several flight numbers on the same flight.
Do you want to know more about codeshare? Take a look at this guide to codeshare flights.