Fly the Branded Skies

Flight 1

There’s one facet of airline branding that’s subtle, yet intensely symbolic. And best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing. It’s the flight number.

In the age of rail, railroads often reserved lower numbers for their most prestigious trains. By the jet age, Pan Am used “flight 1″ for its fabled round-the-world service (flight 2 flew the same route, but in the opposite direction.) The flight an airline designates as “flight 1″ has powerful meaning. It may reflect the airline’s history (as in the cases of Southwest, JetBlue, and American.) Or it might reflect present priorities (as for Air Canada.) Sometimes flight 1 can give you a deep insight into an airline’s soul. And sometimes not.

This is a list of flights designated as flight 1 by the top 50 airlines in the world, ranked by weekly available seat-kilometres.1 Twenty-six out of 50 of the airlines use the flight 1 designation.

  1. United Airlines: None.
    United Flight 1 used to be an around-the-world flight using routes inherited from Pan Am.2 Then it became a flight between Chicago and Honolulu, before disappearing entirely. In May, flight 1 was brought back for a single day for the Dreamliner’s return to service between Houston and Chicago.
  2. Delta Air Lines: New York-JFK to London-Heathrow.
  3. Emirates: Dubai to London-Heathrow.
  4. American Airlines: New York-JFK to Los Angeles.
    American Airlines made the first non-stop transcontinental commercial jet flight, between LAX and what is now JFK, on Jan. 25, 1959.3 Ever since, JFK-LAX has been American’s flagship route. The airline retained the flight number even after one flight, in 1962, ended in tragedy, crashing shortly after takeoff4 — flight numbers are often retired in those circumstances.
  5. Southwest Airlines: Dallas-Love to Houston-Hobby to Corpus Christi.
    Southwest’s flight 1 pays tribute to their beginnings as an entirely intrastate airline in Texas.
  6. Lufthansa: Hamburg to Frankfurt.
  7. British Airways: London-City to New York-JFK via Shannon.
    Flight 1 used to be British Air’s morning flight to New York on the Concorde. The flight is no less exclusive today, although the equipment is somewhat more humble: an A318 that can land on LCY’s short runway. The plane is all business class and carries only 32 passengers. Because A318s ordinarily lack the range to reach New York from London, the flight includes a stop in Shannon.
  8. Air France: None.
    Like British Airways, Air France once used flight 1 for one of its Concorde flights. However, since the retirement of the Concorde the flight number has not been reused.
  9. China Southern: None.
  10. Singapore Airlines: San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore-Changi.
  11. Cathay Pacific: None.
  12. Air China: None.
  13. US Airways: Phoenix to Chicago-O’Hare
    This was formerly the flight 1 of America West Airlines.
  14. China Eastern: None.
  15. Turkish Airlines: Istanbul to New York-JFK.
  16. Qantas: Sydney to Dubai to London-Heathrow.
    Qantas flight 1 was formerly the kangaroo route through Singapore (and before that, through other cities including Kuala Lumpur.) Starting this year as a result of Qantas’ new partnership with Emirates, the flight now stops in Dubai instead.
  17. Qatar Airways: Doha to London-Heathrow.
  18. KLM: None.
  19. Korean Air: Seoul-Incheon to Tokyo-Narita to Honolulu.
  20. Thai Airways: None.
  21. Air Canada: Toronto-Pearson to Tokyo-Narita.
    Air Canada inherited this flight number from its merger with Canadian Airlines, which in turn inherited it from CP Air. At the time, flight 1 flew to Tokyo from Vancouver5 — but of course today’s 777s have longer range.
  22. All Nippon Airways: Washington-Dulles to Tokyo-Narita.
    ANA’s first international routes, to Guam, Washington, and Los Angeles, came in 1986.
  23. TAM: None.
  24. Ryanair: None.
  25. Japan Airlines: San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda.
  26. JetBlue Airways: Buffalo to New York-JFK.
    JetBlue started flying on Feb. 11, 2000, with service to Fort Lauderdale and Buffalo.
  27. Aeroflot: None.
  28. Etihad Airways: Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt.
  29. easyJet: None.
  30. Iberia: None.
  31. Malaysia Airlines: London-Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur.
  32. Virgin Atlantic: London-Heathrow to Newark.
    Virgin’s very first flight, a 747 from London-Gatwick to Newark, took place on June 22, 1984. In 1991, after a long battle, Virgin won the right to fly from Heathrow.
  33. Gol: None.
  34. Asiana Airlines: None.
  35. Air India: None.
    Air India One is the callsign of any Air India plane carrying the Prime Minister, President, or Vice President.6
  36. Alaska Airlines: Washington-National to Seattle.
  37. Saudia: None.
  38. China Airlines: Honolulu to Taipei.
  39. Lion Air: None.
  40. Hainan Airlines: None.
  41. SWISS: None.
  42. Jetstar Airways: Melbourne to Honolulu
  43. Air New Zealand: London-Heathrow to Los Angeles to Auckland.
    Air New Zealand was the last airline to offer round-the-world flights entirely on its own metal. The LHR-LAX-AKL flight still exists, but as of this year the HKG-LHR segment is a codeshare with Cathay Pacific.
  44. WestJet: None.
  45. Alitalia: None.
  46. Jet Airways: None.
  47. Transaero Airlines: Moscow-Domodedovo to Saint Petersburg.
  48. Air Berlin: None.
  49. Virgin Australia: Sydney to Los Angeles.
  50. EVA Air: Los Angeles to Taipei.

Route map generated by Great Circle Mapper.

  1. The list comes from the CAPA Center for Aviation. []
  2. Press release from 1992: United Airlines to launch ’round-the-world’ service. []
  3. Lobster on the menu and history in the air []
  4. The crash was made famous once again by an episode of Mad Men. []
  5. You can see this in Canadian’s inaugural timetable. []
  6. Air India One []