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Know Your Airplane: Why the Airplane You Fly Could Make a Big Difference on Your Next Trip

A plane is a plane, right? You might think that, but you would be wrong. The experience you have on any given flight, in any given class, can be drastically affected by the plane you’re on, even within a single class of service.

Now, some differences are obvious. You’re not going to get the same level of comfort on a regional turboprop as you are on the gargantuan Airbus A380-800. Obviously.

But even with the same carrier, on the same route, in the same class of service, having one aircraft over another on your flight can drastically affect your comfort and amenities.

What to Look For

To get a sense of what you can expect on your next flight, you’ll want to look at a range of criteria for the aircraft you’ll be flying. Here are some of the key qualities to look for:

Age

The newer an aircraft is, the more likely it’s outfitted with modern amenities, like Wi-Fi, in-seat power and in-flight entertainment. Newer aircraft, like Boeing’s 787 and the Airbus A380-800, also tend to have better cabin air systems, with improved humidity and more natural-feeling pressurization during your flight.

Size

The bigger a plane is, the smoother it tends to fly. Small regional jets and turboprops are going to be tossed around by air currents that the behemoths of the sky would hardly notice.

Amenities

While age can give you a sense of your experience on your aircraft, carriers frequently upgrade and retrofit older cabins with new technology. So, if you see a flight on an older model aircraft advertising Wi-Fi and power in every seat, there’s a good chance you’re going to have just as comfortable of a flight as you could in a newer aircraft.

Getting the Details

So now that you know what you’re looking for, how do you go about looking for it?

Let’s look at an example itinerary from Phoenix to New York on American.

It looks like I’ve got two options in terms of aircraft: I can fly on a Boeing 737 or on an Airbus A320.

Great, now what?

Some airlines (notably Delta) do a great job of giving you information about the specifics of the aircraft on which you’ll be flying. Others, like American, make you do a little digging.

So, we know that both flights offer Wi-Fi and we know the name of the aircraft, but that’s about it. How do we find out more?

We can start by checking out Planespotters’ information about American Airline’s fleet.

Here, we learn that, if we choose the Airbus A320, our plane is likely to be an average of 16.4 years old. But, if we choose the Boeing 737, the average age of that fleet is only eight years old.

Now we’re getting somewhere. What else can we find out about our options?

Every major airline offers an information page on its fleet, and they’re a great resource here. American Airlines tells us they have just one version of the A320 but two versions of the 737-800.

Now we know that, if we get on the 737, we’ll be getting power in our seat, and, if we get on the A320, we’ll be on our own for powering our devices during the flight.

We still don’t know if our flight is on Version 1 or Version 2 of the 737.

Let’s bring in another resource: SeatGuru. Put in your flight numbers, and the site will give you a wealth of information on your aircraft and configuration.

Our SeatGuru’s page on our A320 doesn’t tell us too much that we don’t already know, but, when we put in some details for our 737 flight, we get some useful information.

SeatGuru tells us in Version 1’s configurations, economy starts at row 16; in Version 2’s configurations, economy starts at row 10.

So, we head back to American’s site where we’re making our reservation, and click on the “seats” link.

It looks like on this flight, Main Cabin Extra seating goes all the way back to row 16, so this is American Airlines’ more common Version 1 737 configuration.

From American’s fleet page, we learn that means no on-demand entertainment, but we do, in fact, get in-seat power. We can also read passenger reviews on SeatGuru to see what different passengers thought of different cabins.

On this route, all else being equal, we’d probably pick the flight with plug-ins, so we can land charged and ready to go in the Big Apple.

Uncertainty in Every Trip

Now, even after all this work, it’s worth noting that the aircraft on your flight isn’t set in stone. Maintenance, weather, crew delays or the whims of airline executives could all result in you getting a different plane at the last minute. Still, by being intentional about the aircraft you choose, you’ll be improving your chances of a more comfortable flight every time you fly.

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