Several weeks ago I was working on this post when I decided to take a WP timeout to attend to an important personal matter. I’m still attending to the personal matter, which will be discussed in the next post. Finally, I got around to finishing and publishing this one.

Although it may go largely unnoticed, some airlines name their airplanes. At least one airline, Virgin Atlantic, goes farther and adorns its planes with nose art. The vast majority of airlines neither name their planes nor give them nose art. As an aviation enthusiast, I think that is regrettable.

The commercial aviation industry borrows a lot from maritime lingo and tradition. An airplane is an air-craft and is even sometimes referred to as a ship. Aviation professionals measure speed and distance in knots and nautical miles. The left side of a plane is called “port.” The right side is called “starboard.” Passengers board and disembark on the port side. Navigation-light colors are the same on planes and boats. The pilot in command is the captain. The cockpit is the flight deck. Passengers occupy a cabin. Airplanes travel to/from air-ports. Airplanes are staffed with flight crew and are serviced by ground crew. Etc., etc..

Given all that, it seems odd (at least to me) that the large majority of airlines reject the nautical tradition of the naming of vessels. I can’t think of, nor have I come across, a good explanation for the fact that some airlines follow the nautical tradition of naming planes and others don’t.

The practice of naming planes seems to be most prevalent with European airlines although the practice is worldwide. KLM, the world’s oldest airline, started naming its aircraft in 1925. It is a practice that is still going strong after almost 100 years.

KLM 777 “Darjeeling Railway” at Schipol Airport (AMS)

Airlines in the Virgin group are my favorites. They not only name their planes, some give them nose art.

“Birthday Girl” Virgin Atlantic 787-9 at London Heathrow (LHR)

Virgin Atlantic probably took some figurative flak for its choices for nose art. It recently came up with new designs to add to the mix. I haven’t seen any on aircraft yet.

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Airlines name their aircraft for a variety of subjects and can be very creative with their names. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) names its aircraft for Viking kings, explorers, poets and rune stone carvers, and characters from Nordic mythology. Flying on a plane named “Thor”, “Odin” or even “Loki” would be fun.

None of the Big 3 U.S. airlines, American, Delta and United, name their planes (boring!). Frontier Airlines is is a medium sized very low-cost U.S. carrier that earns generally negative reviews. It might be a nightmare to fly, but I should try it sometime because it names its planes after the animals pictured on the plane’s vertical stabilizer.

1105 Frontier - 25
The tray table on a Frontier jet shows the mountain lioness and cub pictured on the tail.  Their cuteness improves the experience on this ultra-low-cost airline.

I’ve flown on a couple of 5-star Asian carriers that turn some of their aircraft into flying works of art. The liveries on these planes are attention getters. They also produce revenue for the airline.

ANA (All Nippon Airways) 777-300 in Star Wars livery at Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Hello Kitty livery on an EVA Air A321 at Cebu, Philippines Mactan International Airport (CEB)

Final Thoughts

Navies name their vessels. Cruise ships have names. Marinas are filled with proudly named boats of all sizes. Manned and unmanned vehicles that we launch into space are called spacecraft and they all have names. In my opinion aircraft are worthy of the same honor as watercraft and spacecraft.

Do you know of any airlines that name planes? What do you think about naming planes or giving them nose art?