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Anyone who has ever taken a flight, international or domestic, knows that the number on your ticket is the key to everything. It tells you where to go, it helps you find your flight on the departures and arrivals board, and it is one of the main ways that you keep track of yourself and your luggage at the airport.

But have you ever wondered what that string of numbers and letters really mean, and what else they can do for you? Let’s take a look and find out.

The Significance of the Letters

As one might guess, the letters in a flight number stand for the airline you are flying on. UA is United Airlines, QF is Quantas, VA is Virgin Australia, and WN is Southwest Airlines (the SW was already taken by another airline, which has since changed its name). These letters are assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and are used to identify airlines all over the world.

The Significance of the Numbers

The numbers that follow these letters are a bit trickier to pin down. In most cases, though, the lower a number is (UA001, for example), the longer and more important the flight is. The longer, harder to guess numbers are usually for flights that are domestic or shorter.

The length of the number is not the only thing that is important, though. Whether the number is odd or even also gives you information about your flight. In most cases, flights that fly to the east or the north are even numbers, and flights that go in a westward or southward direction are odd.

For most airlines, a flight number that starts with the number 3 is a flight that is fully or partially operated by another airline working for that airline. For example, if you booked your flight with Lufthansa but most of the trip is flown using United Airlines planes, your flight number may begin with a 3.

Lastly, flight numbers are, to some extent, a choice by the airline. These airlines often avoid unlucky numbers like 13 or 666, but they often embrace lucky numbers like 888. There is in a flight in the United States numbered 1776, in reference to the Declaration of Independence.