Know­ing your air­craft isn’t just for geeks — it could even score you the best seat on the plane

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - FLYING - ROBYN IRON­SIDE

Even in 2017, it is hard not to marvel at the sight of a sleek white air­craft soar­ing across the sky on the way to wher­ever. Some might try to iden­tify the air­line by the liv­ery or flight time, and oth­ers with a bit more know-how may try to guess the air­craft. To as­sist with that, avid plane spot­ters Beau Chen­ery and Lance Broad have pro­vided a guide to the most eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able air­craft, and those most likely to grace Aus­tralian skies.


Air­bus’ Su­per Jumbo is per­haps the eas­i­est air­craft to iden­tity due to its sheer size, four en­gines, and two full rows of win­dows.

Flown in Aus­tralia by Qan­tas, Emi­rates, Eti­had, Qatar and Sin­ga­pore Air­lines, the A380 is a favourite among trav­ellers be­cause of its two-floors and the lack of en­gine noise in­side the cabin. Due to its spa­cious in­te­rior, some air­lines have fit­ted fea­tures like a busi­ness lounge for guests or, in the case of Emi­rates, a shower suite, for first class trav­ellers.

In econ­omy, pas­sen­gers should seek exit row seats for ad­di­tional leg room, or seats in the front of the cabin to avoid be­ing re­clined on.


The 747s are rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing from Aus­tralian skies with Qan­tas and Korean Air among the few jumbo op­er­a­tors left. From mid-2019, Qan­tas plans to have phased out the air­craft – which were once the main­stays of the Qan­tas In­ter­na­tional fleet.

A favourite among plane spot­ters, the 747s can be iden­ti­fied by the “cut­off dou­ble decks”, and four en­gines. The choice of pri­vate air­craft of the Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter, 747s now are more com­monly used as freight air­craft. Sadly, their rel­a­tively high fuel con­sump­tion com­pared with more mod­ern air­craft is set to rel­e­gate the iconic model to the bone­yard.


One of the more com­mon air­craft op­er­at­ing in and out of Aus­tralia, the Boe­ing 777-300 is also the long­est, stretch­ing to 74m in length. With a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a re­li­able work­horse, the 777 has a great safety record de­spite be­ing at the cen­tre of Malaysia Air­lines’ twin tragedies of MH370 and MH17.

Emi­rates op­er­ates the big­gest fleet of 777s in the world, and they can be seen in Aus­tralia sport­ing Vir­gin Aus­tralia, Amer­i­can Air­lines and Eti­had liv­ery. As well as their out­stand­ing length, 777s can be iden­ti­fied from their three sets of wheels on the main land­ing gear, and lack of winglets.


Bet­ter known as the Dream­liner, Boe­ing’s 787s have be­come pop­u­lar among trav­ellers for their large win­dows and cabin at­mos­phere – en­gi­neered to min­imise the ef­fects of jet lag. Op­er­ated by a raft of air­lines in Aus­tralia in­clud­ing Jetstar, Air New Zealand, Eti­had, Emi­rates and Amer­i­can Air­lines, the 787s will also join the Qan­tas fleet from De­cem­ber this year.

Chen­ery says the 787s are eas­i­est to spot at night due to their “very bright flash­ing lights” that are eas­ily seen from a long dis­tance. “The first Qan­tas 787-9 will def­i­nitely be one to look for,” Chen­ery told Es­cape. “They’re a rep­utable air­craft and it’s good to see Qan­tas fi­nally get a long­haul, twin-en­gine air­craft.”

With seat­ing for 242 to 335 pas­sen­gers, the 787s prom­ise a qui­eter cabin and elec­tron­i­cally op­er­ated win­dows, so there is no reach­ing over peo­ple to pull down or lift up shut­ters.


The most mod­ern air­craft op­er­at­ing in Aus­tralian airspace, the A350 is to some ex­tent Boe­ing’s an­swer to the 787. Flown by Qatar Air­way and Cathay Pa­cific in Aus­tralia, the A350 has a marginally wider cabin than 787s, mean­ing seats tend to be up to an inch wider. The cabin ceil­ing is also higher, pro­vid­ing more room for over­head lock­ers.

Like the 787, the cabin pres­sure is set at about 6000-feet, 2000-feet lower than other air­craft, which for pas­sen­gers means more mois­ture in the air and a more com­fort­able flight.

Chen­ery points out the front cock­pit win­dows are unique, in that they ap­pear black from the out­side, prompt­ing com­par­isons with a Zorro mask. Other fea­tures to look for are the blended winglets, also known as “sharklets” and the slanted shape of the nose.

In­side the A350, one of the most pop­u­lar fea­tures is the tail cam­era, that al­lows trav­ellers to watch the world un­furl be­neath them as they fly to their des­ti­na­tion. As far as in-flight en­ter­tain­ment goes, the tail-cam is con­sid­ered bet­ter than most Hol­ly­wood block­busters.


As the world’s sec­ond big­gest-sell­ing com­mer­cial air­craft, the sin­gle-aisle, twin-en­gine A320 is an air­craft most trav­ellers have boarded at one time or an­other.

Op­er­ated by air­lines world­wide in­clud­ing Jetstar and Tig­erair in Aus­tralia, the A320 uses fly-by-wire tech­nol­ogy that makes it rel­a­tively easy to pi­lot. Al­though con­sid­ered a bit “ho-hum” by plane spot­ters, the A320 can be iden­ti­fied by its bul­bous nose and sharply an­gled tail­fin.

A320s also have a round en­gine in­let in con­trast to the Boe­ing 737’s fish-mouth shape.

The best seat on an A320 is widely con­sid­ered to be 1A – which has more legroom, a win­dow view and no one to re­cline back on to you.


Last of all, the world’s big­gest sell­ing com­mer­cial air­craft – and the plane Aussie trav­ellers would be most fa­mil­iar with – the Boe­ing 737.

Hav­ing been in con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tion for the past 50 years, the 737 is the undis­puted stal­wart of do­mes­tic air travel, and also does quite well on short-haul in­ter­na­tional routes. Be­tween Qan­tas and Vir­gin Aus­tralia, more than 150 Boe­ing 737s are in op­er­a­tion down un­der and Vir­gin has plans to add the 737 MAX to its fleet from 2019.

The eas­i­est way to dif­fer­en­ti­ate a 737 from an A320, is the sin­gle light on each wing as op­posed to “two flashes” on Air­bus air­craft wings, Chen­ery says. Then there is the curved edge of the tail­fin where it meets the fuse­lage and the pointier nose.

Be­ing so com­mon, plane spot­ters rarely lift their cam­eras for a 737 – un­less it has a new or special liv­ery, says Broad.

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