Marcy from New York asks “When booking flights on some websites I see sets of 3 digits that I assume are airplanes, but the numbers look unfamiliar to me. What do all these airplane numbers mean?”
Marcy, when looking at aircraft types on various airline websites and online travel agency sites, I don’t give ‘all these numbers’ a second thought, but I do see your point. The numbers are simply codes for the aircraft type and variant you’ll be flying on.
Let me try and break this down simply in a somewhat painless manner. Passengers are familiar with the Boeing 747, Airbus A330 and Canadair Regional Jets, but rarely look into the specific model number or how these model variants are designated.
Generally the first two numbers in the ‘3 digits’ you refer to is the aircraft type and the third number is the variant of the aircraft.
For Canadair Regional Jets you’ll see the CRJ-700 as the CR7 and the CRJ-900 as a CR9. For the smaller Embraer Regional Jet the ERJ-145 is commonly written out as the ER4, while the larger Embraer Regional Jets, the E-170/175 are generally written out as the E70, E75.
When it comes to the Boeing 737 the numbers you’ll likely notice an aircraft designated as the “73G.” Since there is a Boeing 737-700 variant, the aircraft can’t be abbreviated as “737,” so since “G” is the 7th letter in the alphabet, this aircraft is denoted as the “73G”
With the multiple variants of the Boeing 777 series, including the “extended range” (ER) and “long range” (LR) some of these aircraft are also designated with letters, rather than numbers. An example of this is the 777-300 is the 773 while the 777-300ER is abbreviated as the “77W,” and while the Boeing 777-200 is the 772, the 777-200LR is denoted as the “77L.”
Within some airlines you may find unique identifiers for aircraft. Delta Air Lines for example operates two cabin layouts of the Boeing 767-400ER. To differentiate the internal cabin layout these aircraft they are referred to as the “76C” and “76D.” You will rarely, if ever, see your aircraft denoted as the “76C” or “76D,” you’ll simply these planes denoted as the “764.”
Hopefully this answered your question in a somewhat painless manner!
Below is a screen illustrating where Marcy’s question comes from. The “738” is a 737-800 and the “763” is a 767-300.