I have discussed a few times the ins and outs of a regular travel day, but until now I haven't gone into the basics of the actual airplane that you will be flying on.
If you follow me on Instagram/Twitter (@MileageMayhem) you have seen me post pictures of different airplanes. It is extremely important to know the differences in each model so you can make the most informed booking decision you can to achieve the maximum value from your travel.
Why Is It A Big Deal?
The biggest difference is size. But with that comes differences in layouts of seats, bathrooms, premium cabin offerings, etc...
You want to make sure your experience is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, and picking the right plane can make a massive difference.
Aside from size, entertainment varies from aircraft to aircraft in terms of WiFi and free in flight entertainment.
What Is The Difference?
There are two main manufacturers of passenger aircraft, Boeing and Airbus. Let's talk about each.
737 - The highest-selling passenger plane in the world was made famous by Southwest Airlines, as they exclusively fly 737s. American Airlines recently began retrofitting their 737s, although all three legacy carriers operate 737s. They all run 3 seats on each side of a single aisle. It's hard to know when you're getting a new one, but American Airlines calls theirs 737-800 or 738. If you can find a 737-800 it's going to be a newer model.
747 - The original "Jumbo Jet", the 747 is an international model that carries crazy amounts of people with an upper and lower deck. Many international airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic use 747. If you are redeeming miles for a first class or business class ticket and the 747 is an option, you should definitely consider it to experience going up and down stairs in the sky.
757 - The 757 used to be very popular but production ceased in 2004.
767 - Another internationally-designed model, the 767 is rare to catch domestically but certain routes will use this to get from, say, Miami to DFW to prepare for another international flight. The 767 has two aisles and comes in a 2-3-2 seating alignment.
777 - This is one of the most popular international jets, and usually a great bet if you're booking first or business class. If you're on a 777 in coach, beware, as they run 5 seats in the middle!
787 - The latest model of the 787, the "Dreamliner" is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its slick design and fuel efficiency. Again, it's rare to find one domestically unless you're flying from one major hub to another. Most commonly they contain 2-4-2 seating alignments.
A320/A321 - This is probably the "newest" popular model as the Airbus group has made some impressive modifications to the A320 that puts it at the center of the next decade of travel. The A321sharklets version adopted by American Airlines is a beautiful plane featuring impressive In Flight Entertainment and a very cool cabin layout with a bathroom in the middle of the aircraft in addition to the foreward and rear lavatories. This is my favorite "regular" domestic aircraft. Avoid the regular A321 as those are generally older models. You'll find one aisle with 3 seats on each side on both models.
A350 - Rapidly becoming the new standard for long haul travel, the A350 is becoming an extremely popular choice as airlines forego First Class travel for Business Class-only flights. Singapore Airlines just began a nonstop, 16 hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore on this model with business class-only seats. Delta also plans to operate an all-business A350.
A380 - The biggest passenger plane in existence, the A380 is the number one option for international first class travel. Currently the pinnacle for several airlines like Qantas, Emirates and Etihad, this model looks as if it will be phased out in favor of more fuel efficient models. The calling card of the A380 (like the 747) is the two-deck setup. This is number one on my flying wish list!
MD-80 - This is the worst airplane that flies regular routes. I hate this plane with a passion. It's old and it sucks. I hate that American Airlines still flies them. Avoid at all costs. Seriously.
So, what should I choose for Domestic travel?
Choose: A321sharklets, 777, 787
Avoid: MD-80, Regular A321
And what about international?
Choose: A380, A350, 787
As always, there is a lot of variance from airline to airline with aircrafts, so these aren't hard and fast rules, but are generally good guiding principles when choosing a flight.