flight numbers & equipment switches


Aug 20, 2002
Can someone enlighten me on how flight numbers are assigned? Sometimes it seems that the long-hauls usually have 2 digit numbers, but then some of the European flights are 2 or 3 digits. Is there a science behind numbering, or are they just picked out of the air by computer when a route and desired times are entered into the system?
On a similar topic, why are airlines (like US) getting away with advertising a single flight number from point A to B to C, yet making someone do an actual connection to different equipment.
Example: US 11 from LAX-PHL continues onto Madrid, but you have to get off the 757 in PHL and go to a different gate for the 767. I understand the marketing push behind it. Sure, trick em' into thinking it's one flight from LA to Spain. I always hear people complain and act pretty confused when they are told there will be a 'connection' when they thought they were on a direct flight. It's shady and fraudulent, if you ask me.

You can refer to my answer to a similar question under the thread Cost Control Suggestions.

While I can't speak for US Airways, I work in that department at UA. We have dedicated flight number ranges for certain markets. For instance, our Hawaii flights are always numbered between 30-67. Or our JFK transcons are always numbered between 3-29. This allows us to keep as much continuity as possible from one schedule to the next. There are times when flight numbers have to change and it can be driven by a variety of reasons.

When you refer to US selling a single flight number from point A to B to C, yet making customers change planes, that usually only happens with international to domestic or domestic to international flights. It's what's referred to as a change of guage thru flight. All airlines do it. You're right. It's a marketing gimmick. Makes Joe and Jane Passenger think they're on a single aircraft from LAX to MAD, when in fact they must change planes in PHL. For the most part, international arriving flights come in and many times, the aircraft goes back across the water, unless maintenance rotations put it on a domestic routing. In order to maximize revenue, airlines tag domestic flights thru to international flights, usually from large markets. However, change of guage thru flights domestic to domestic are extremely frowned upon by the DOT. I know at UA we don't have them.

Hope that helps explain it a bit.
[P]I tend to agree that aircraft with change of equipment really should NOT be numbered with the same flight number. But I guess DOT/FAA allow it.[/P]
[P]The big abuse of this came from the time schedules in the mid 90s (1996 and thereabouts):[/P]
[P]You would have the MAD-PHL flight (non-stop) listed as flight 11. But, coincidentally, you'd have a MAD-CLT one stopper with flight #2705, MAD-CLE one stopper with flight #2707, MAD-SAN one stopper with flight #2759, and so on. All of the 27xx flights had change of aircraft enroute listed by it.[/P]
[P]As to general flight numbering, I think that US tries to keep transcons in the 1 - 199 range. Some of the lowest flight #s are European flights (flight #2 used to be PHL-FCO; flight #26 used to be PHL-CDG).[/P]
[P]I know that Flight #1 has always been an early morning DCA-PIT-LAX flight.[/P]
[P]I know that US deletes flight numbers for flights that have crashed. ([EM]i.e.[/EM], US 427).[/P]
[P]I have discovered that US is now numbering flights to LAS with 7s in the flight number.[/P]
[P]US used to number CMH flights with 1492/1493 until US 1493 crashed at LAX.[/P]
[P]I think US follows the standard pattern of eastbound and northbound flights being even numbers and southbound and westbound flights being odd numbers.[/P]