How to pick your plane for your next trip

Key Points
  • Airlines include the plane type on their schedules and fare lists.
  • Carriers are touting calming lighting and pressurization in some new models.
  • Passengers are running out of time to fly on iconic Boeing 747 jets.
The view of a Boeing 747 aircraft from inside an airport terminal.
Source: Boeing

Paris. The Galapagos Islands. The Boeing 747. What do you do if a plane is on your bucket list?

Airbus, the European manufacturer of the world's largest passenger jet, the Airbus A380, operates a website called iflyA380, giving passengers a list of routes and airlines using the super jumbo jet. A decade after the plane was launched, demand has been tepid, so the jet hardly looks like it will be a fleet staple of the future. Emirates is the largest operator of the planes.

Airlines generally include the type of aircraft they plan to use on their flight schedules and fare lists, which is helpful when passengers are eager to get one of the few remaining seats on aircraft that are going out of fashion. U.S. carriers have all retired the Boeing 747, the original jumbo jet with the iconic humped fuselage, from their fleets.

But they're still in use — for now — on global carriers including Lufthansa, British Airways and Korean Air.

A Boeing 747-8 Lufthansa airplane takes off from the Airport Tegel in Berlin.
Britta Pedersen | AFP | Getty Images

Some passengers might prefer newer planes, and airlines have been gobbling up new aircraft that offer passengers more comfort such as higher pressurization, higher humidity levels and mood lighting, features that can make ultra-long haul flights more tolerable. Newer long-haul aircraft are also more fuel efficient, using two engines instead of four.

Airlines are using these planes as marketing tools to attract travelers. Delta Air Lines, when it lists flights on its website, for example, calls out flights operated on its new Airbus A350s with a red button that says "flagship." The planes replaced the Atlanta-based carrier's Boeing 747s, a four-engine gas guzzler, last year. United also retired its 747s.

Delta expects to fly Bombardier's C Series jets next year. The planes have large windows and wide aisles, features the airline hopes will make them a passenger favorite.

Delta A350
Source: Delta Airlines

Travelers who want to fly on certain aircraft should note that "nothing is guaranteed," said Gary Leff, an air travel blogger who writes View from the Wing.

Mechanical problems can force airlines to swap out aircraft, and even use smaller models. Several airlines are grappling with engine problems on Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and are using other aircraft to handle the rush of vacationers, for example. Bad weather can also disrupt the change planes.

Also, travelers may end up choosing a brand-new plane but one with a dense cabin configuration, meaning you could feel more cramped than on other aircraft. Some older aircraft might be retrofitted with more comfortable seats, at least in the front of the plane, Leff added.