An Idiot’s guide to Identifying Airliners


This is the Boeing 2707. It never happened.

If all things from a certain category look the same to you, then you’re probably an outsider. The exception to this rule being airliners, which all look the same to a lot of insiders too. Airbus is particularly guilty: spewing out a series of uniformly bland designs that leave observers uninspired to even check the identity of the passing plane on the Flight Tracker app. But the skies are alive with secrets my friend, these clones are not clones! The following story will change your life as we, at Hush-Kit, with the help of artist, Maule pilot, air traffic controller and comedian Dorian Crook, can finally share the arcane secret that allow identification of modern airliners. Mesmerise lovers, blow the minds of colleagues and terrify therapists with your new ability to tell an Airbus A320 from an A319. Don your Goretex, leave sexy at the door and prepare for An Idiot’s guide to Identifying Airliners. 

Or if you can’t be bothered to memorise this, the identity of a plane is normally written on the side at the front of the aircraft. 

NOTE: We know this is by no means comprehensive and a part two may follow. 

Squashed engines = Boeing 737


The barrel bit under each wing is an engine, if it’s a bit ‘squashed’ on the bottom like this one, then it’s a Boeing 737. You can see it’s not quite circular, the lower lip is a little flattened. (This wasn’t the case with early 737s, but you’re unlikely to see them).

The nose is a bit pointy too.


Unlike the generally similar Airbus A320 series the vertical tail fin starts from the main body of the aircraft at a sharper sweep angle before raking back to a shallower more vertical angle.

Double decker all the way = Airbus A380


Fat. Four engines. Tall tail. Appears to move in slow motion. Really massive with a huge forehead. From the front it looks like the body (or fuselage if you’re feeling fancy) is so heavy it’s bending the wings down.


Frilly engines = Boeing 787 Dreamliner 


If the back of the big barrel bits (it has two engines) look frilly as if attacked with a pastry cutter, then it’s a Dreamliner. They also have skinny shark-fin wings.

(update – if it has four engines with scalloped bits at the back it’s a 747-8)

Airbus A350


Looks like a Dreamliner without frilly engines, wearing a Zorro mask.


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Boeing 747 

VERY big, with four engines, a face like a dolphin and a bump on the top. The front is double decked. That room the pilots look out of is placed higher than on other aircraft. Lufthansa_Boeing_747-8_(16093562187).jpg

Boeing 747SP


The Boeing 747SP was the Special Performance i.e. long-range version. This was achieved by reducing the weight of the aircraft, mainly by shortening the fuselage so it appears to be just that big nose and tail. There was maybe room for 3 passengers in between the cockpit and the toilet. By the way, if you fly, or work on, a Boeing 747, you absolutely HAVE to call it a “Seven-Four”. If you say “Seven-Four-Seven” you’ll look like a fool. On the hill overlooking Seattle…

Boeing 767, 777 or Airbus A330? 

All are huge twin-engined sausages. They’re very big. They also all have the same amorphous quality of looking fat* or sleek depending on which angle they’re looked at from. There’s a more serious guide to identifying these types here.

* (We would only fat-shame aircraft, never people. Sleek fat people do exist.)

777: The singing fish 


The singing fish

The 777 is the biggest. It’s enormous. But if you’re not in a position to judge its height it does have a scalloped ‘flat’ end to the tail – viewed from the left it looks like a singing fish. . Also 777s don’t have those tiny mini-wings (winglets) at the end of their wings that some A330s have (as do some, but not all, 767s).


If the wheels are out it’s easy to tell a 777. The main undercarriage each has three pairs of wheels (the 767 and A330 only have two). (Be careful though, the A350-1000 also has three pairs of wheels)



Airbus A330


Little winglets? And boring straight-bottomed cockpit windows?

Can’t tell it from a 777? Join the club mate, but the winglets should help.

Airbus A330-300.jpg

Boeing 767


Note the conical end to the tail. Some 767s have winglets.


Two sets of mainwheels on 767.

Airbus A340 ‘Heroin heron chic’


Four engines and very long and skinny. Or if it’s a A340-600 it will be COMICALLY long and skinny.




Embraer 190


Like a high-speed French train with wings

Looks a bit like a small DC8 (younger readers will need to research this)-especially in Alitalia colours-but without the nostrils. It’s Brazilian, so all Embraer destination airports are required to shave the grass either side of the runway.


Look! The wings are not swept back very sharply at all.


Oh shit, just noticed the engines are a bit squashed on the E190 too. But the underside is still far less flat than a 737’s. Also the underside of the pilots’ windscreens are all on the same level.

Bombardier C-Series


Fairly rare this, especially as it has now been bought by Airbus and is now the Airbus 220. Visual clue is a little cat-flap at the bottom of the tailplane. Probably with some Swiss Cheese nearby. Or it could be an APU inlet. Despite this being a very new aircraft, it sounds like a 1950 vacuum cleaner when reverse thrust is applied.

Nice curved nose like a dog or de Havilland Comet.


Fokker 50

Reminiscent of the 1950s- era Fokker Friendship. Mainly because it is a 1950s Fokker Friendship but the engines are different. And it has two nosewheels instead of one.

Handley-Page HP 42


One of the first successful airliners (cue Twitterstorm), this one knew what it was doing. Flying regularly from Croydon to Paris. There was no HP42 NewGen, Neo, Excel, or other such nonsense. The only modification was that the First Officer had to bring in the flagpole carrying the Ensign, before the aircraft took off. This machine also had a revolutionary Head-Up Display: The pilot’s looked up and checked that they were still following the Reigate-Ashford railway line, and thus pointing the correct way to Paris. Smoked Salmon sandwiches with the Captain. Ok, that doesn’t help you identify it, but there’s none left anyway. Just showing you what we’re missing……..

A lot of the others

If in doubt it’s probably one of the smaller Airbuses or a 737. 1fc17bc0dfef4f85f67532d147ed05e1.jpg

A320 family

Despite the best attempts by scientists no one can really tell an Airbus A318 from an A319, A320 or A320…and there’s even an A321. If you can read and recall just one of the following points you’re ahead of the pack (whether it’s a pack you’d let into your home remains a valid concern) .


A321 has four passenger doors and has sensible proportions. ‘Four lovely doors are lots of fun, this must a 321.’ 

BA Airbus A320.jpg

As the rhyme says ‘Two emergency doors above the wing are plenty, this must be an A320.’


A319 – Rhyme ‘One emergency exit can be seen, between the two passenger doors of an A319.’


“Tiny and cute as a pug in heaven, windows forward only 11” The Rhyme for the A318 refers to the fact that moving forward from (but not including) the overwing emergency door there is 11 windows. It is very short and very cute with puppyish proportions. The two pictures above are not to scale, the A318 is shorter.

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