Back in the early days, one flight number would usually have one airplane the whole way. Heck, it was more likely for the airplane to stay the same than the actual airline! (There used to be interchange flights where one airline would take the airplane part of the way and then they’d turn the airplane over to another airline to go the rest of the way.)

It got out of control quickly as airlines tried to cheat the system. I remember flipping through a timetable when I was young seeing Delta with a ton of high four digit flight numbers that were all assigned to the same flight. So maybe you would see London to Atlanta as one flight, but then they would overlay a bunch of flight numbers so it looked like you could go on a direct flight from London to all the big cities in the US. I don’t remember when that stopped happening, but I assumed it was a government regulation that ended that misleading practice.

But that didn’t mean airlines still couldn’t get creative about how they assigned their flight numbers. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that the flights that were ideal for marketing as direct weren’t the same flights as what would be ideal from an operational perspective. Certain aircraft had to go to maintenance, others just weren’t the right size to operate both legs. So the operational side of the airline started shifting airplanes around regardless of the number attached. That’s where we are today, at least with most airlines.

Read more on the CrankyFlierWhy Do Airlines Switch Airplanes on Flights with One

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  • Cranky Flier

    My name is Brett, and I’m an airline dork. I’ve had the bug since I was young. As a kid, I never missed a chance to go to LAX a…

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