Are You an Aircraft Savant?

Can you instantly identify an aircraft and its configuration with just a glimpse of its fuselage? Or are you aircraft-challenged and couldn’t tell a Boeing 747 from a DC9 if it were parked in your living room?

The following annotated list describes some of most common aircraft currently flown by U.S. carriers. This edition of Transit Authority answers questions such as which aircraft:

  • have 100% fresh air
  • are wide body versus single aisle
  • are well traveled versus fresh off the assembly line
  • have roomy overhead bins
  • seat 50, 130, or up to 524 fellow travelers

The airlines are responsible for the cabin configuration of their planes — that is, the placement of seats within the cabin. This configuration is noted by a series of numbers, each of which represents the number of seats on each side of an aisle. For example, a single-aisle plane with two seats, then an aisle, then two more seats is represented as a 2-2 configuration. Wide-body aircraft are generally considered to be any aircraft with more than one aisle; these planes include Boeing’s 747, 767, and 777; Lockheed’s L-1011; McDonnell Douglas’s DC-10; and Airbus Industries’ A300 and A310.

Note: Boeing and Airbus launch fleets — or families — of aircraft with multiple variations of a basic aircraft. For example, Boeing’s 737-800 is a stretch version of the base 737 aircraft.

Aircraft Description
Boeing 717

Launched in 2000, the 717-200 aircraft is Boeing’s newest fleet. The 717 features more headroom than similar aircraft, cleaner and quieter engines, roomier overhead storage (with larger EasyFit bins), 100% fresh air circulated throughout the cabin, and more aisle and window seats. AirTran is the largest operator of Boeing 717s. The 717 seats about 120 passengers.

Boeing 727

The 727 was one of most popular planes ever; today, however, airlines are in the process of retiring these aircraft from their fleets. The 727 seats 125 passengers.

Boeing 737

A single aisle, twin-engine, short-to-medium-range airplane, the 737 is the best-selling commercial jetliner of all time. The newest versions are the 737-700 and 737-800, both of which were first placed into service in 1998. The 737 seats 110-150 passengers, depending on series and airline configuration; economy configuration is 3-3. Most majors fly 737s–Southwest exclusively.

Boeing 747

The wide-body, twin-engine, long-range 747-400 is considered to be the fastest and largest subsonic jet in the world. The 747 has a cruising speed of 567 mph or Mach .855 — 85% the speed of sound — and at 231 feet can carry 416-524 passengers depending on configuration. The first 747 was put into commercial service in 1970.

Boeing 757

A single aisle, twin-engine, short-to-medium-range jetliner, the 757 family has two versions: the 757-200 (designed to seat up to 200) and the 757-300 (a stretch version of the 757-200 that can carry an extra 40 passengers). Economy configuration is 3-3.

Boeing 767

The wide-body, twin-engine 767 is sized between the single-aisle 757 and the larger, twin-aisle 777. The 767 can seat up to 290 passengers, depending on the series and airline configuration. Economy configuration is 2-3-2.

Boeing 777

The wide body, twin-engine 777 is the newest member of the Boeing wide-body family. At 209 feet in length, the 777 is second in size only to the 231-foot-long Boeing 747. The 777 seats 305 or 375 passengers, depending on airline configuration; economy configuration is 2-5-2. The first 777 was flown in 1995.

Boeing DC-9

The DC-9 was designed specifically to operate from short runways and on short-to medium-range routes. The DC-9, 10, and 20 series seat 90 passengers, whereas the 30, 40, and 50 series seat up to 139 passengers; economy configuration is 2-3. This is not a common aircraft today; Spirit operates six of these craft.

Boeing MD-80

The single aisle, twin-engine, medium-range MD-80 is flown primarily by American and Delta airlines. The MD-80 seats about 130 passengers; economy configuration is 2-3.

Airbus A319

A single aisle, twin-engine, short- to medium-range aircraft, the A319 is part of the A320 family. The A319 seats 120-130 passengers; economy configuration is 3-3.

Airbus A320

A single aisle, twin-engine, long- or short-haul aircraft, the A320 was designed with wider aisles and larger overhead compartments than the comparable Boeing 737 and 757. The A320 seats around 150 passengers; economy configuration is 3-3.

Regional Jets

The definition of a regional jet is inexact. The most commonly used regional jets are the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet 400 (CRJ) and the Embraer ERJ 145 (ERJ). Although, some pundits also include the Boeing 717 and DC-9 in the category. The CRJ can zip along at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour and service routes of up to 2,000 nautical miles. CRJs are configured with a 2-2 seating configuration and seat 50 passengers. The ERJ can also fly at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour, with a range of 1,500 nautical miles. ERJs are configured with a 1-2 seating configuration and seat 50 passengers.

If you are flying on a regional carrier, you will likely fly on a regional jet or a turboprop aircraft, small aircraft with propellers. Regional jets are often used to fly on “long and thin” routes — those routes between cities that are too distant to use turboprops (because of that craft’s limited range and speed) but have too little customer demand to justify flying larger jet aircraft.

Regional jets are increasingly becoming the aircraft of choice for airlines as they replace much-maligned turboprops and older, larger aircraft whose routes are more cost-effectively flown by these smaller, energy-efficient machines. From a passenger’s perspective, regional jets are a vast improvement over turboprops but offer considerably less headroom and overhead storage capacity. They also tend to be noisier than larger jets. Perhaps the cramped cabin gives the impression that the seat pitch is considerably smaller also, but, in fact, most regional jets are configured with a 31-inch seat pitch — the same as economy seating on most major airlines.


For less-traveled routes, regional carriers are still likely to use turboprop planes. The most popular turboprop planes today are the Beech 1900, Bombardier Dash 8, SAAB 340B, Dornier 328, and Jetstream 41.