In commercial aviation there’s no flight number quite as prestigious as flight 1. Flight numbers don’t often follow a readily apparent logic, but it’s usually different with flight 1, or as it’s often written alongside an airline code, 001.
It might seem like it would be more orderly and obvious if airlines just numbered flights in the order they launched them. The first route gets flight 1, the return leg gets flight 2, and so on. And yet that basically never happens. Take recent startup Starlux Airlines of Taiwan for example – when the carrier launched earlier this year its first flight numbers were JX201, 203 and 205 from Taipei to Macau (currently only JX205 is operating while Starlux ramps up operations.) The airline’s flights from Taipei to Da Nang, Vietnam carried the flight numbers JX701 and JX1701. Go figure.
In many cases there is a method to the madness of flight numbering, but that method could fill several posts. So today I’d like to look at just one question: which routes actually carry the flight number 1, and why? Here are some of the highlights.
American Airlines – AA001
AA1 has been a New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) flight for decades. It is still active, although AA last operated this flight in early September – a (likely temporary) victim of cuts due to the drop in demand after summer. Of note: in 1962, a Boeing 707 carrying flight number AA1 crashed shortly after takeoff from JFK, killing everyone onboard. Most of the time after a crash airlines will retire the flight number involved, but in the case of AA1 they did not.
British Airways – BA001
BA001 was famously reserved for one of two daily Concorde services from London Heathrow (LHR) to New York JFK. The morning departure, to be precise. A fitting designation if ever there was one. After Concorde was retired the flight number was dormant for some time, until it was assigned to another unique flight. BA1 was attached to the airline’s daily all-business class service from London City (LCY) to New York JFK, operated by an A318 with a stop in Shannon (SNN) on the way westward. That flight sadly has sadly become a victim of the pandemic, and BA001 is once again dormant.
Air France – AF001
Air France also placed the AF1 code on its Concorde service between Paris and New York. Ever since the Concorde was retired, the French flag carrier has never brought the flight number back. It’ll clearly take something very special for Air France to dust that one off again.
Delta – DL001
Delta uses flight number 1 for a somewhat more mundane service, and once again it is a New York (JFK) to London (LHR) flight. As one of the busiest and most lucrative international routes in the world (at least pre-COVID) it’s no surprise that many airlines see New York to London as the obvious route on which to place flight number 1. Otherwise there’s nothing special about this one; a standard 767-400 is used. The flight restarted in August and has been running daily since.
United – UA001 & Singapore Airlines – SQ001
United has applied UA1 to its San Francisco to Singapore service – a relatively new addition to its network. That might have something to do with SQ1 being the flight number for Singapore Airlines’ own SFO to SIN service. While it may not be the busiest route in the world, it is one of the longest at 8,446 miles (13,592 km). Both flights are currently suspended because of the pandemic.
Lufthansa – LH001
It hasn’t operated since earlier in the year, but Lufthansa may win the award for shortest hop to carry the coveted number. LH1 has traditionally been assigned to a daily domestic leg from Hamburg (HAM) to Frankfurt (FRA).
Gulf airlines – QR001, EK001 and EY001
Both Qatar Airways and Emirates use flight number 1 for London services – QR1 from Doha to London Heathrow and EK1 from Dubai to London Heathrow. Etihad goes a slightly different way by assigning EY1 to its Frankfurt service from Abu Dhabi. Neither Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways nor Oman Air have a flight 1.
Taiwanese airlines – BR001 and CI001
EVA Air and China Airlines, both of which are based in Taipei, place their flight 1 code on service from the US. EVA’s BR001 is a Los Angeles (LAX) to Taipei (TPE) service, which China Airlines CI001 is a Honolulu (HNL) to Taipei service. The EVA Air flight, it should be said, has only operated a handful of times.
Korean Air – KE001
Korean Air has a unique flight 1 because it applies to a two-leg service from Seoul (ICN) to Tokyo (NRT) and then onward to Honolulu (HNL). That second leg takes advantage of the normally very high demand for flights between Tokyo and Hawaii. And that means you can fly on Korean’s most prestigious flight number without going near its home city of Seoul. Note: currently the Tokyo-Honolulu section is suspended.
Japanese airlines – JL001 and NH001
Japan Airlines assigns JL001 to its Tokyo (HND) to San Francisco (SFO) service, going against the norm of westbound flights carrying odd flight numbers. This flight continues to operate daily. All Nippon Airways, meanwhile, gives NH001 to its Washington DC (IAD) to Tokyo (NRT) flights, which have been suspended since March.
Some themes definitely emerge here. London likely has the most flight 1’s of any city. New York isn’t far behind. For the Asian carriers that have traditionally close links with the US, transpacific routes are the obvious recipients. And some airlines simply don’t bother – though I have to say that seems like a missed opportunity.
Which flight 001’s have you flown? Have we left any other great examples out? As always we’d love to hear from you on Twitter.