Reader Mail : What Do All These Airplane Numbers Mean?

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 example, if you are flying on a Boeing 747-400 the aircraft is listed as a “744,” if you’re flying on an Airbus A330-200 the aircraft is listed as a “332” while the A330-300 is listed as a “333.”

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.

Happy Flying!


  1. I asked jeeves what the numbers meant on airplanes because my girl flies a Boeing 777 for United . My question was simply where do the numbers 777 come from. I didn’t get my answer.

  2. Bob,

    The Boeing 707 was the first in the line of commercial jet aircraft using the “7” designation, although the first 707s were actually “720s” following the 707 came the 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and now 787 (the 717 was created out of order and that designation was actually used twice)

    If you look at Boeing’s history of aircraft they always used a series of numbers for their aircraft. The company’s bi-planes used the “0” designation, followed by the monoplanes that used the “2” designation, then the military large props & larger commercial airliner prop used the “3” designation and entering the jet age, the “4” designation was assigned to military jet aircraft.

    When the commercial jet age came about, the “7” series designator was created. With the 777 being named in the long line of Boeing’s “7” series aircraft.

    Hope that explains it.

    Happy Flying!


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