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