Airline mergers push art of numbering flights the way of the Concorde
In its day, the supersonic commercial airliner Concorde flew from London to New York as British Airways Flight 1.
May 18th, 2011
09:28 PM ET

Airline mergers push art of numbering flights the way of the Concorde

Most airlines assign flight numbers randomly, but every so often, a bit of whimsy makes its way into the schedule.

Southwest Airlines Flight 711 goes from San Antonio to Las Vegas in a wink to the craps tables, an airline spokeswoman said. Some flights to and from Philadelphia fly under 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed in the City of Brotherly Love. And some flights to Columbus, Ohio, go by 1492, the year Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

“At Southwest, we try to have fun with everything we do,” the spokeswoman said. “We have a system built in-house that allows us to include or exclude flight numbers as we see fit, but we do assign certain numbers to certain flights for fun.”

Most airlines operate under a similar system, said Brett Snyder, who runs “Cranky Concierge” travel service and the “Cranky Flier” blog.

The occasional “legacy number” remains, such as American Airlines' Flight 1 from New York’s JFK airport to LAX, but “most of the stuff is pretty random,” he said.

“They used to have more fun with these things in the past,” Snyder said. “They try to keep with legacy systems when they can, but the airline mergers have thrown them into disarray. Every airline used to have a flight 1, but when you have a merger, which one do you keep?”

United Airlines pulled the merger card Wednesday when flight numbers 93 and 175 resurfaced briefly, despite having been retired after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

A technical glitch occurred Monday, when a computer assigned those numbers to existing Continental Airlines flights, United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said. United and Continental are the process of merging, and flights carry both United and Continental numbers, he said.

"It should not have happened, and we should have caught the mistake sooner than we did," Johnson said. The numbers will remain off the books, he said.

Like United, many airlines have a list of flight numbers they don’t use, usually because of their association with disasters, Snyder said.

Southwest probably has the most latitude, he said, because it doesn’t code share its flights with other airlines.

Even so, he said, the art of numbering flights appears to be going the way of the Concorde (which, by the way, was British Airways Flight 1, from London's Heathrow airport to JFK).

“It adds a nice little human touch when you get some of those flight numbers. Certain frequent fliers get nostalgic if they fly a lot on the same flight number. There’s something about it people tend to identify with,” he said.

“It’s a goofy nostalgia thing that doesn’t matter, but it’s an intangible.”

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soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. drap

    I'm pretty sure she knew,what she had... .

    May 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cricket

    I think that's cool, the way Southwest has fun ith flights.
    I always fly flight #420.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Yeah....way cool. NOT. Bring back Petticote Junction already. Uncle Joe? How many Ts in petticote? coat? heck....bring it back anyway! (and nobody drank that water, it was for the railroad stuff) Ceasar and/or RUFFNUTT wouldda drank it i reckon. lmao! banasy'd probly say 'for shame'! he he

    May 18, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Capt Huffnpuff

    I suppose they have flight numbers because colors don't work.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rider

    Christopher Columbus was from Spain!!! not italy

    May 18, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • tjc

      You do realize that Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. He was Italian. He only sailed for Spain because the king and queen helped cover the cost.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crys

      He was born in Italy, hailing from Genoa. He sailed under Spanish flags, but not as a Spanish citizen.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rami

    TWA had 1 going to HNL and 2 coming back to STL. Miss TWA

    May 18, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rami

    Idiot

    May 18, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. EnviroAgent

    I think Singapore Airlines Flight 21 is for how many freaking hours it feels like you're on the flight...that said, they probably have the best cabin staff in the world.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby B

      Only airline where I've ever wished the flight was longer!

      May 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tom

    The caption is wrong. Should be "to New York as," not "to New Year as." Need an editor? 🙂

    May 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JayNYC

      Not to mention that the picture is of an Air France Concorde, not a BA one.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cesar

    @Tom: kiss my b*tt. Hahahahaah

    May 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cesar

    @Cyrs: hi. You too can kiss my b@tt. Hahahaahah

    May 18, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff Frank - (R-Ohio)

    Remember Sir your flight # is case sensitive.
    Your flight # Hs7r19bk4

    May 18, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dan

    why dont they work on the art of CHEAP TICKETS

    May 18, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar

    @EnviroAgent: Hi. Please don't kiss my b+tt. I don't like gay guys like you, touching me. Hahaahhaahah

    May 18, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • EnviroAgent

      A dude named Cesar calling people gay...that's rich.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bobby B

    Most flights to and from Philadelphia fly with flight number 1776? Really? And the picture is an Air France aircraft, but the caption is for British Airways. Amazingly bad journalism. Way to kick it in CNN.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrManic

      CNN only pays close attention to their race-baiting articles.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
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