11

This is a future goal of mine, not a problem I currently face. Hope that doesn't invalidate the question.

I really want to fly aboard the aircraft registered N123AA (this is only a dummy registration standing in for a variety of real registrations that I want to fly on). The airline that operates N123AA operates many aircraft of N123AA's type. These aircraft are cycled through a few routes, so each route is not necessarily flown by the same aircraft each day. That is, a flight from AAA to BBB might be flown by N123AA on Monday and N456BB on Tuesday (as is common). So if I were to simply book AAA-BBB with this airline, I couldn't be sure I'd fly on N123AA.

What I want to do instead is book a flight on N123AA on X date and go wherever it's flying that day! N123AA flies from my local airport in the US to a few major European cities (depending on the route), and I'd be glad to visit any of them (I don't need visas for any of the countries either).

I know I could get tail swapped on the day of the flight, especially since the airline operates lots of other aircraft of the same type. But odds are there would be no swap.


I use Flightradar24 and FlightAware, but they don't work for this purpose. When I search by registration, I can see at most 24 hours into the future, depending on if flight plans have been filed. There is no info on what flight N123AA will be assigned to days/weeks/months in the future.

I also tried to find patterns using these websites, e.g. if N123AA flies AAA-BBB on Mondays and Thursdays, but there doesn't seem to be a pattern.


Not a duplicate of this or this (both on aviation.SE). Those questions ask how to determine the registration of the aircraft that flew a particular route or flight number after the flight has been completed. I need to determine the registration before I book the flight.

There are also multiple questions on travel.SE asking how to figure out which aircraft type will fly a given route in the future. My question is about aircraft registration, so not a duplicate.


"But why?!" This aircraft is a piece of aviation history, a living legend, and I want to fly on it before it retires (it's still young, so I have time)!

  • 1
    If you want to take a flight on N123AA, the first thing you'll need is a time machine. Examples are sometimes fine, but I think in this case a more realistic one would be helpful. – Michael Hampton Aug 24 '16 at 0:50
  • 1
    You could wait until shortly before the flight and book a last-minute ticket (even as a walk up at the airport) if there's space. This would obviously be more expensive though. – Zach Lipton Aug 24 '16 at 0:52
  • @MichaelHampton N123AA is just a dummy registration, I actually just realized there is a retired DC-10 registered as that. (facepalm) There are multiple real incident aircraft that I want to fly on. – TangoFoxtrot Aug 24 '16 at 0:52
  • If you pursue this enough expect to spend some time in windowless rooms explaining to security personnel what it is, exactly, that you're trying to achieve. Not saying you have an agenda but your quest is sufficiently bizarre that it's going to raise a flag somewhere if you try to enlist the help of airline staff. I think a more concrete example of your intentions would put some minds at rest. – Perry Sep 1 '16 at 23:21
8

Unless you know someone who works at that airline, there is no way to find this out and even then, they would only be able to see the expected schedule for a few days. There is no pattern (well, there might be, but it's still not enough) and aircraft are constantly swapped out so even that's nothing you can book on.

The only way to guarantee flying on a specific aircraft is to buy a ticket at the airport it's currently flying to, then fly wherever it's going next. For retiring aircraft, this can be easier than it sounds. If you're trying to get a ride on on an AA MD-80, go to DFW, a 757, MIA is your best bet.

If it's a specific 737, be prepared to chase it through the system.

  • 3
    "Someone who works at the airline" is not necessarily implausible. Aviation forums like airliners.net and flyertalk often have a few users who are (apparently) airline employees and will sometimes anonymously share proprietary information like this upon request. – Nate Eldredge Aug 24 '16 at 2:16
  • Upvoted, thanks. But - "buy a ticket at the airport it's currently flying to, then fly wherever it's going next" - does this really guarantee flying on that specific aircraft though? It can still get swapped out. – TangoFoxtrot Aug 26 '16 at 0:14
  • 1
    Yes, because if you're right there and the aircraft is swapped at the last minute, just don't fly. Then wait for it's next revenue flight, which 90% will be from that same airport. – Johns-305 Aug 26 '16 at 11:51
  • @Johns-305 Gotcha. So if it gets swapped, I just have to waste that ticket and buy a new one? Or would that ticket somehow remain valid for the a/c's next revenue flight? Or, am I supposed to know if it gets swapped before purchasing the ticket? (Sorry for the bombardment of questions, lol, I'm slightly confused.) – TangoFoxtrot Aug 26 '16 at 22:02
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    The regular ticket rules all apply, the airline doesn't care that you want to fly that particular aircraft. If you by a full Y fare, meaning fully changeable/refundable, no, you don't lose any money, it's just more expensive up front. Just ask yourself, is the change fee worth the very, very small risk of an a/c swap on that exact flight? – Johns-305 Aug 26 '16 at 22:47
5

Check the routes the night before each possible travel day. If your target plane is assigned to one of the routes, go online and buy a ticket on that flight, and fly the next day.

It will be expensive, because you will be booking less than 24 hours before the flight, but it will get what you want.

The airline probably does not know whether your target plane is going to fly or not on a given day until at best a few days in advance, so they could not sell you a ticket weeks or months ahead even if their computer systems were set up to book by tail number.

  • 3
    I've heard that sometimes they lower prices near the end if there are lots of empty seats. – WGroleau Aug 24 '16 at 1:13
  • Upvoted, thanks. I think the last-minute ticket is the way to do it. And that's a good point, it occurred to me after posting the question that the airline itself probably doesn't know which tail # is flying exactly! – TangoFoxtrot Aug 26 '16 at 0:17
  • Patricia, how can you see the type of aircraft while you're booking? Do some airlines display it online? @ElliottMurt – Revetahw Aug 27 '16 at 22:26
  • @Fiksdal I use Flightradar24/FlightAware and search by registration. Sometimes I can see up to 24 hours into the future. If you just want to see the aircraft type and not the specific registration, you can search by route and you might be able to see the type of the next aircraft scheduled to fly that route. (But sometimes not.) – TangoFoxtrot Aug 28 '16 at 1:35

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