Have you ever found yourself looking at the departure board at an airport wondering how flights are numbered? At a first glance it might seem as the airlines just pick random combinations of numbers, however that is not the case. As many other things in aviation this too has reasoning behind it.
How Flight Numbers Are Structured
Two parts compose each flight number:
- The IATA code – the alphanumeric initial part.
- The flight number itself.
The first 2 digit part of the flight number, the IATA airline code, is unique to every airline. This code will remain constant on every flight number of a specific airline. These codes sometimes make sense, others not at all. For instance British Airways uses BA, Qantas QF (as in Qantas Flight) and Emirates EK. In some instances the IATA code also contains numbers, as is the case for Jetstar Asia (6K) and Indigo (6E).
What comes after these initial 2 digits is the flight number itself. This will, as we’ll see below, give us some information about the destination of the flight.
How Do Airlines Number Their Flights?
Let’s start off by saying that in some cases short haul LCC (low-cost carriers) might not follow this structure. Generally however long haul carriers do.
What airlines generally do with their flights numbers is: international or medium to long haul flights will have 3 digits while short haul or in many cases domestic flights will have 4.
For medium and long haul flights each region served will have a fixed initial digit of the 3 digit flight number. Let’s take Emirates flight numbers for instance:
- Australia flights will always start with 4 (Dubai Sydney is flight EK412/414/416)
- Europe flights will have numbers from 001 to 199 (Dubai Rome is flight EK95/97)
- Africa flights will always start with 7 (Dubai Tunis is flight EK748)
- American flights will always start with 2 (Dubai Chicago is flight EK236)
- Middle East flights will always start with 8 & 9 (Dubai Muscat is flight EK863/867)
- India Pakistan and Sri Lanka flights will always start with 5 & 6 (Dubai Kolkata is flight EK571/573)
- Asia flights will always start with 3 (Dubai Seoul is flight EK323)
Another Example With ITA Airways
As I’m based in Italy to show you how other airlines do this in a similar way, I’ll give you ITA Airways as another example of this structure. The Italian flag carrier structures it’s flight numbers as follows:
- Domestic flights have 4 digits.
- All flights to America, north and south, start with 6. Rome New York is AZ602/AZ610/AZ608.
- All flights to Asia start with 7. Rome Tokyo is AZ792.
- North Africa and Middle East flights start by 8.
- UK flights start with 2
- Belgium and Netherlands flights start with 1