What's in an Aircraft's Name?

Many travelers don't give much thought to whether the aircraft they are flying on is named on the side.



March 29, 2023

DALLAS — Many travelers don't give much thought to the type of aircraft they are flying on, and perhaps even less to whether the aircraft is named on the side.

Many airlines name their planes. Most are European carriers such as Austrian Airlines (OS), KLM (KL), Lufthansa (LH), SAS Scandinavian Airlines (SK), SWISS (LX), TAP Portugal 9TP), and Virgin Atlantic (VS). 

For example, LH's Boeing 747-8s are named after German states, such as Bayern, Brandenburg, and Thüringen. While smaller planes such as the A319s are named after smaller German cities such as Jena in Central Germany and Osnabrück, in Northwest Germany.  

I had the opportunity to fly the Brandenburg from Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and on the way back to Houston, on one of the A380s named “Wien.” There was even a plaque affixed at the galley.

This Lufthansa A321-131 is named after the Northern German city of Wismar.
Lufthansa 747-8 "Brandenburg" seen at Frankfurt Airport Pier Z.
Lufthansa "Nordrhein-Westfalen" 747-830 at Frankfurt am main. Delivered in 2014, this aircraft marked the 1,500th 747 ever built.
LH A380 "Wien" at Frankfurt, scheduled to depart Houston. Note the catering truck is specially made for servicing the double-decker plane.
"Welcome Aboard the Wien!"
"Herne", named after the city in Northwestern Germany, prepared to depart Denver International Airport.
SAS A330-343E "Helge Viking" parked at LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal

KLM also names its planes.  Its retired fleet of Boeing 747-400s is named after world cities such as Hong Kong, where I was born; Bangkok, Seoul, and Dubai. 

While an A330 is named after Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral square in Milan, Italy. A recent sighting of two Boeing 787-9 was named “Carnation” and “Heavenly Blue.”

KLM Asia "City of Hong Kong" seen at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport prior to push-back.
KLM 787-9 "Carnation" with a special marking commemorating the airline's 100th year anniversary.

TAP Portugal named their aircraft after famous Portuguese such as soccer player Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, a knight named Pêro Vaz de Caminha, and a 15th-century writer Camilo Castelo Branco.

Austrian mainly named its planes after cities in Eastern Europe such as Sarajevo, Bucharest, and Tbilisi, and landmarks such as the mountain Geschriebenstein and Wörthersee, a Southern Austrian lake.

TAP A319 "Eusebio." Delivered in 1999.

The naming ritual is much less common in Asia and the Americas. In the US, Hawaiian Airlines (HA), Frontier (F9), and JetBlue (B6)remain the only three carriers with names placed on the nose of their planes. 

On a rare occasion during 2011, shortly after the United/Continental merger, I spotted a United Boeing 777-200ER (ex-Continental) still carrying the last Continental CEO Larry Kellner's name at Newark Liberty Airport (EWR).

The last CEO of Continental Airlines still had his name affixed to a repainted United Boeing 777.
Hawaiian 717 "'Amakihi" seen at Honolulu Interisland terminal. Named after one of the honeycreeper birds found in Hawaii.

In Asia/Pacific, the only airlines I know that name their aircraft are Thai Airways (TG) and Qantas (QF). Recently I spotted a QF Dreamliner named the “Great Barrier Reef” while at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

In 2011, QF's inaugural flight into DFW was using a Boeing 747-400, after the aircraft type retired, the A380 assumed the flying and now the route is served by Boeing 787-9.

A close-up look at the "Great Barrier Reef."
Qantas 747-438ER named "Sydney" with the oneworld Alliance logo, at DFW in 2014.
Virgin Atlantic's 747-4Q8 "Tubular Belle" at SFO is on its way to London Heathrow. It was later scrapped in 2016.

Do you have a favorite aircraft name? Be sure to leave your comments on our social media channels.

Featured image: Southwest Airlines N230WN Boeing 737-7H4(WL) (Colorado One Livery). Photo: Otto Kirchof/Airways