You may know the plane you are on is an Airbus A321 or a Boeing 747. But did you know your airplane could also have a name?
Hawaiian Airlines names their Airbus A330s after constellations. Its first Airbus A330 was named after Makali’i, which is Polynesian for the Pleiades, because when the first Hawaiian flight took off Nov. 11, 1929, the constellation was bright in the sky.
Hawaiian heritage features proudly on every aircraft in the carrier's fleet: Boeing 717s and 767s are named after indigenous birds, while short-haul, regional flights on ‘Ohana by Hawaiian are named after the winds that blow over Lanai, Molokai, and Oahu.
Polynesian culture also plays a major role in the naming of Air Tahiti Nui’s airplanes. Along with the white tiare flower, the names of French Polynesian islands like “Bora Bora” and “Mangareva” decorate the planes’ exteriors.
Like Hawaiian and Air Tahiti Nui, heritage, tradition, and geography have inspired the naming conventions for many airlines. (Though some, like American Airlines, don’t gift their aircraft with a moniker.)
Australia’s Qantas names Boeing 707s after major cities on the continent. You may find yourself aboard the “Parramatta” or the “Alice Springs.’ Its Airbus A300s, on the other hand, honor native explorers, with names like “James Cook” and “John Oxley.”
El Al Israel Airlines names its airplanes after cities across Israel: Beneath the cockpit windows, you can see designations like Haifa, Nazeret, Tel Aviv, and Carmel.
And more than 300 Lufthansa airplanes are named after German cities. The airline has been following the tradition since 50 years ago, when local mayor Willy Brandt christened the “Berlin.” Five wide-bodied planes have carried on the Berlin name.
Aer Lingus, meanwhile, names its airplanes after Irish saints: The English and Irish names—St. Colmán, St. Ronan, St. Patrick—appear on either side of the aircrafts’ noses.
British Airways has named its airplanes after cities across the United Kingdom, famous Brits, and European castles.
Icelandair, fittingly, borrows names for its aircraft from the country’s volcanoes.
Virgin America, known for hilarious gate agents and tongue-in-cheek safety videos, also has a sense of humor when it comes to naming its planes. Grace Slick helped bestow the title “Jefferson Airplane” to Virgin’s first aircraft. Since then, we’ve seen the “Unicorn Chaser,” the “Screw it, let’s do it,” and the first hashtag-named plane on the planet: the “#nerdbird.”
Want to learn a bit about the airline you’re flying with? Just check the name inscribed on the aircraft’s body before you enter the jet bridge.
Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.