How To Determine The Age Of The Plane You’re Flying

I’m always fascinated by the the history of the planes I’m flying on. Not to sound like Mitt Romney, but as far as I’m concerned, planes are people too. 😉 They have some interesting histories, and I’m really sad when they go to the plane “graveyard.”

Before I explain how to search the age of the plane you’re flying, let me emphasize that the age of a plane has very little impact on its safety. Rather you should be concerned about the maintenance practices of an airline. A well maintained 40 year old plane can be just as safe (or maybe even safer) than a brand new plane.

With that out of the way, early last year I wrote about how you can use Airfleets to track the history of a plane. However, I explained that in the context of visually seeing the registration code of the plane you’re on.

So how can you find out more about the plane you’re flying if you don’t know that registration code? It’s a two step process. This will only work if you’re searching close to departure, since airlines typically don’t assign tail numbers until fairly close to departure, and that’s always subject to change anyway until the plane leaves.

Let’s say you’re flying today from Frankfurt to Seattle on Condor, which is flight DE2032 (it just departed). I would use both Flightradar24 and Airfleets to determine exactly which plane is operating the route.

First I would Google “Flightradar24 DE2032” (or you can go to Flightradar24 and search the flight number — it’s your choice). That should bring you to this page. There you’ll find the registration code listed next to the aircraft type — in this case D-ABUE.

This may not be listed if you’re searching hours or days in advance. Some airlines publish this info a few days in advance, while some only do it an hour before departure.

Once I’ve done that, I would Google “Airfleets D-ABUE,” now that I have the registration code. That brings you to this page, which shows you the history of the plane.

To me the most interesting details here are the age of the plane and the airlines that it operated for. In this case, the flight is being operated by a 25 year old 767-300 that has only ever flown for Condor and Thomas Cook, so this is one of the less exciting histories we’ve seen.

By comparison, there’s a 17 year old Condor 767 that has flown for Air Europa and Transaero.

Like I said, what you find shouldn’t matter all that much, but if you’re anything like me, you may still find this information to be interesting.

Comments

  1. Another option is to check the aircraft data plate when entering. Usually (or always!?) it is on the left side in the door frame that tells you the mfg date of the aircraft along with some other information

  2. Interesting, thanks. Just looked up today’s Pegasus A320 as I’ll be flying later this week in the middle of the night to SAW. Plane is only three months old.

    Wow.

  3. Old planes can be really nice, especially if the interior has been kept up. On DL, I’m always looking for routes where I can fly a 757, despite many of them being 20+ years old.

  4. A commercial airline pilot recently told me that cycles flown were the most important age indicator of a passenger jet, not age in years.

  5. At least for the narrow body, right after stepping onto the plane, I look up for that ‘birth certificate’..and determine whether to order a hot beverage or not

  6. Always check Air Canada fleet age. They have the most ancient fleet in North America, with A320s from the 1980s

  7. @chub, indeed, but AC 767s still win!

    Average age of DL MD88s: 25.8 years
    Average age of AC A320s: 24.8 years
    Average age of AC 767s: 29.0 years

  8. @chub Also FR24 has no airline/registeration history.
    It’s fasincating reading the history of Four Season’s 757,

  9. When you fly on an airbus a320 series, there is a small foil sticker inside the frame of the forward boarding door round about eye level on the left hand side (as you board) which has the airframe’s manufacturing date on it. Which is kind of cool.

    Not sure if they do the same with their widebodies though.

  10. As mentioned by @chub, if you have at least a FR24 silver account, the age is displayed right there in the aircraft details. There’s no need to jump to Airfleets in that case.

  11. “visually seeing”? Are there non-visual ways of seeing something?

    ps. Any trolls out there wanting to have another go at me, now’s your chance!

  12. Another source — IF you *do* know the tail number — is planespotters.net. It will tell you the month and year the plane was delivered. For example N286VA, the Virgin America/Alaska A320 named “legally high,” was delivered in February 2016.

    What it will NOT tell you is the average age of a particular type of plane within the fleet. That is, it won’t tell you that the average age of DL’s MD88s is 25.8 years; it will tell you the average age of their entire fleet (DL = 16.4 years), as well as the age of each specific plane. For instance:

    N904DL Delta Air Lines McDonnell Douglas MD-88
    Airframe Details:
    Manufacturer Serial Number (MSN) 49535
    Line Number 1347
    Aircraft Type McDonnell Douglas MD-82
    Age 31.7 Years
    Production Site United States Long Beach (LGB)
    Airframe Status Active

  13. P.S. With regard to N904DL, it was delivered as an MD-82 in March 1987, then converted to an MD-88 in July 1988…

  14. Donna, Yes, the age and the number of cycles taken together are key. So a ratty old Delta plane used for short hops is the worth.

    Often the type of plane gives you a clue, but that won’t work for 737’s, 747’s and A320’s, which have been in production for anything up to 50 years

  15. Ha ha. I live doing this too Ben. Especially when flying domestically around Australia, some of the smaller airlines have fascinating history eg I travelled on an Alliance Airways jet recently on a wet lease for VA and noticed it used to be a corporate private jet for Ford Motors back in the day. Ha !

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