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"FLIGHT NAMES" JUST WOULDN'T BE THE SAME

Employee
Employee
What if airline flights had names instead of numbers? Hmmmmm!. "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard Angela, our eight o'clock flight to Orlando."

Or; "Hey, Mike, what flight are you taking to L.A. tomorrow?" "Umm, I'm not sure, I think I'm taking John." "John's going with you to L.A.?" "No, no, John's not going. I'm going by myself." "Oh; that's what I thought. John's on vacation this week, anyway. So what flight are you on?" "I told you---I'm taking John!" "BUT YOU SAID JOHN'S NOT GOING!"

Okay, forget it. Bad idea. Way too confusing. Let's just stick with numbers for flights. However, believe it or not, there is a method of sorts behind the way airlines assign flight numbers. Historically, in the United States flights going from East to West, and from North to South, are given odd flight numbers. Flights from the West to East, and South to North, carry even flight numbers. This practice dates back to the 1940s, when flights carried both numbers and names (like premier trains did--names like the Zephyr or the Sunset Limited or the Senator). Then there is the importance factor. For most airlines, the lower the flight number, the more "prestigious" a flight is. Take Flight 1, for example. At American Airlines, flight 1 is their prime 9:00 a.m. flight from Kennedy Airport in New York to Los Angeles. At United, Flight 1 is their daily nonstop from Chicago O'Hare to Honolulu. Northwest Flight 1 is their daily 747 from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Hong Kong. Even venerable old Pan Am got in on this act–their Flight 1 was their Eastbound round-the-world flight, heading east out of JFK for a total global circumnavigation, stopping at London, Frankfurt, Delhi (or Bombay, depending on the day of week), Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu, and Los Angeles before returning to JFK. I had the pleasure to be on several legs of PA1 once back in the late 70s, and what I remember most was how many different types of beer were in their liquor kits. That's my kind of travel!

At Southwest, we don't really follow any of these flight numbering schemes. None of our flights are odd (ahem) and all of our flights are important, just as all of our Customers are. However, we are sticklers for history. Our Flight 1 is the early flight in the first market we ever flew–our 7:00 a.m. flight from Dallas/Love to Houston/Hobby. It's been that way for as long as any of us can remember, and I have a hunch if we tried to change it there would be more wailing and gnashing of teeth than there was over changing the flavor of Coke.

And believe it or not, there is airline flight number humor. I guess in an industry as difficult as this one is, you take pleasure wherever you can find it. Southwest flight 711 (as well as that USAirways 711 and Northwest 711) go to, naturally, La$ Vega$. Continental flight 1492 and America West 1492 both go to Columbus (sailed the ocean blue–get it?). Until recently, Southwest flight 1969 flew between Islip and Baltimore–because that was the year the New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series (we have a big-time baseball fan from Long Island in our Department). And in a nod to our national history, American, Delta, and Continental all schedule a flight 1776 to Philadelphia. Perhaps the prize for the "geekiest" flight number humor would go to ... me! About nine years ago, Southwest began Saturday-only nonstop service between Las Vegas and Spokane, Tulsa, and New Orleans. I spent one entire weekend wracking my brain coming up with six flight numbers that, if you added up the individual numerals in the flight number, added up to 21. I remember two of them--one was 1947 (1 + 9 + 4 + 7 = 21), and another was 885 (8 + 8 + 5 = 21). Come to think of it, that was also about the time I realized that I really needed to get a life. So next time you book a flight, stop and think for a second about the flight number. It might not have any particular significance. But if it turns out to be one of those "special" flight numbers, smile. Somewhere, you will have made a Schedule Planner's day!
27 Comments
New Arrival
Wow. I had NEVER thought about flight numbers before. Now, everytime I book a flight I'm going to spend time trying to figure out the significance of the flight number.
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I think Bill just did a number on us.-)
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Bill: I'm having "flashbacks" to the old National Airline's "Hi I'm Barbara. Fly Me!" ads!
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?.... If flight 1 can always be the flight from DAL & HOU, then why can't all the other flights stay the same! I just get a flight # memorized between specific destination's and bang!... it gets changed!
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I continue to add to reasons why I want to have that job. Shame everyone wants a finance degree instead of an information degree.
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Some flights did have names. PSA's late night flight between SFO and LAX was called "The Night Owl". TWA used to have a flight from New York to Los Angeles called "The Sun Chaser". In Arthur Hailey's novel (and later film) "Airport", the flight to Rome was "The Golden Argosy".
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Bill, In the summer of 1972 I had the pleasure of flying PanAm's #1 Eastbound JFK-New Delhi and #2 Westbound on the same route. I know we stopped in Rome and Karachi between Frankfurt and New Delhi, I thought we also stopped in Beruit. It sure was a milk run; most of the sectors were SWA length but they had recently put 747s on the run (including the first class lounge upstairs). It took over 24 hours from JFK to India. Thanks for the memories. Curtis
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That is sooooooo cool. I always thought it had something to do with the Compass.. Degrees and such or Longitude & Latitude. Thanks for the insight. Airline Geeks everywhere can now cross this age old mystery off our lists. Thanks Bill. Flash
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Great article, Bill ! I really enjoy learning tidbits like this, and your style is just a ton of fun!
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A correction to Pan Am's flights 1 and 2. Neither of these were truly round-the-world flights. Flight 1started in LAX and ended in JFK after going via the Pacific, Asia, and Europe. Flight 2 was just the opposite. For many years, Pan Am was not allowed domestic routes (i.e. within the 48 mainland states; they did have flights between the mainland and Hawaii/Alaska). The flight names mentioned by Sean are not really the names of the flights but the service provided. For example, Western had flights named Hunter's Breakfast (so something similar). These were not the name of the flights but the type of service that could be expected aboard the flights.
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Thanks for your insight, Bill. I know that our flights numbers change all the time due to our growth as an airline. When I joined Southwest 20 years ago, we did not use four digit flight numbers for scheduled service . I remember it being a big deal when we surpassed 1000 flights a day and those numbers came into play. Sometimes, for safety reasons we change flight numbers because another airline is using the same flight number in the same airspace at the same time. That can drive the ATC folks crazy.
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David, are they rules for determining flight numbers other than for SWA1. I looked up SWA711 on Flightaware and noticed that it follows a very large u-shaped pattern starting in Hartford and ending in Oakland. Going of course through McCarran. I have also noticed that a lot of flights don't follow the same direction completely through the flight. So I guess that why LUV couldn't apply the direction (odd-even) rule for their flights. Strickly a guess on my part. Also when LUV says that they have more than 3,000 flights, are we counting full trips or segments? For example is SWA711 counted as 1 flight or 4 flights
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I look forward to the flight numbers to used to/from Dulles (that forum was closed) my parents are moving to Charlottesville, VA and have said IAD is a much better choice than BWI. This will help keep the IAD competitive. Looking forward to good connection service to IAD from OAK or SMF and give a certain NYC based low-cost carrier a run for their money.
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thats odd because im under the impression that Flights going from west to east are assigned odd flight levels. I would think that they would also make odd flight numbers for west to east flights. =/ Interesting.
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David, actually airlines did name specific flights. Last night I checked my collection of timetables from the 1950s. Delta's Flight # 747, a DC-7 from Cincinnati to Miami was the Royal Hibiscus, and their Flight #749, another DC-7 from Chicago Midway to Cincinnati, Atland, and Miami was the Royal Poinciana. American's Flight #12 from LAX to Washington National was The Statesman, and their Flight #86 from SFO to St. Louis, Baltimore, and LaGuardia was The Golden Gate. Continental and American operated an interchange service from the West Coast to Texas, and they also named specific flights. Flight #960 from LAX to San Diego, El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston Hobby was The Silver Arrow, and Flight #954 from SFO to Phoenix, El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston was The Texas Arrow. Another interesting fact about Delta is that up until the late 80s, they assigned specific block numbers of flights to specific equipment. 800 series flights were DC-8s for example. They even made a big wall chart for their employees outlining the numbering scheme.
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Brian, There are some named flights but I don't think they are named in the way that the trains in the pre-Amtrak days named their runs. For example, there was, as far as I know, only one 20th Century Limit. However, the airlines would have several flights that have the same name. An example is Braniff's "El Dorado" flights. I'll have to take a look at my OAGs and timetables from the 40s, 50s, and 60s when I get home tonight to do some more research.
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thanks for the feedback, David. No these were specific named flights. You are right that some airlines had service names like El Dorado with Braniif, Delta had Royal Service, BA had "Monarch" flights, but the ones I am referring to are assigned to just one pair of flights like the railroads did. Like many airline procedures, the naming of specific flights came from the railroads, which incidentally also had names for their service. The Burlington had Zephyrs, but had specific trains like the Denver Zephyr, Texas Zephry, etc. The Union Pacific was the Route of the Streamliners, but operated The City of Los Angeles, The City of Portland, etx. Santa Fe had the Chiefs, but also specific ones like the Super Chief, San Francisco Cheif, and Texas Chief to name a few. Oddly enough, last year Virgin Atlantic tried giving specific names to all of their US/UK flights, but they weren't listed when I went to their web site yesterday.
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Brian, Had a few minutes to look up my older timetables. I think we are both right. While there are a few named flights (e.g. United's "Hollywood", "Advanced Hollywood", and "Overnight Hollywood", most of the flights such as Delta's Royal Scott were the type of service involved. When I get more time, I think I will look up more flights and differentiate between named flights and flights that are named after the service on board.
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Auh gee I've never thought of flight numbers like that before bu then alothugh I haven't ever been in an airplane.
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While we're on the subject of flight numbers and names, can anyone recall the flight number Pan Am attached to its New York-Rome flights back in the '60s? I'm trying to trackl down a book with the flight number in the title, and I'd welcome any help I can get. Terry
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When a certain monopoly carrier now based at DFW Airport first inagurated its DC-3 "Flagship" service between New York LaGuardia and Chicago Midway in the mid-1930s, one of the two daily roundtrips was called "The American Eagle" and the other was called "The American Arrow". I think they used the same names in both directions, but each flight also had a separate flight number. Virgin Atlantic has recently started running radio ads in the Washington market promoting their Flight 22 from Washington Dulles to London Heathrow as "The Diplomat". However, I can't find any reference to this name on their Web site.
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Here's some info about Virgin's naming of flights: http://www.expedia.com/daily/advert/flights/Virgin-Atlantic-flights/default.asp?CCheck=1&
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ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS TO DO WHEN I AM HELPING A CUSTOMER---WHEN I AM GIVING THEM THEIR TOTAL IS TO SAY " AND THAT INCLUDES TAXS,AIRPORT CHARGES AND "PEANUTS" THIS ALWAYS BRINGS A LAUGH AND COMMENT ABOUT HOW FUN IT IS TO USE SWA. I DEARLY LOVE THIS COMPANY AND I WANT ALL MY PASSENGERS TO KNOW IT. THANKS, JANICE BREWER
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I have a name for your two-legged (4:30) San Antonio to Amarillo that stops in Dallas "Amarillo by Morning" since this flight follows George Straits lyrics to a t.
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your website helped me alot on my project THANKS
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BA1flies from LHR to SYD. big number eh? mate.
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Thanks for this most excellent article!! I was searching (Google) for something on this topic and there can't be much out there, your was all I found. It was exactly what I was looking for! Good luck and it is nice to know there is a real person behind the numbers!