The Airbus A320 vs Boeing 737 – How To Spot The Difference

If you are flying on a narrowbody, it is likely either a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320. Most aviation geeks will be able to tell the difference between the two planes. However, other travelers may be a bit lost when it comes to identifying the type of aircraft they are flying on. Here’s how to tell what plane you’re on when you’re at the gate.

Delta 737-900er
A Boeing 737 in Delta livery. Photo: Delta

The nose shape

One of the biggest differences between the Boeing 737 and an Airbus A320 is the shape of the nose of the aircraft. The two have different designs that can lead to easier identification. For example, the Boeing 737 has a much sharper nose– almost in the shape of a triangle when looked at from the side perspective. You can see this in the above image of a Boeing 737-900ER. When it comes to an A320, however, the A320 has a nose that is more round. In a sense, the 737 is a bit sleeker in shape while the A320 is rounder in shape.

Delta A321
An Airbus A321 in Delta livery. Photo: Delta

Cockpit windows

The cockpit windows on a Boeing 737 are more angular. There is a downward cut just after the nose. This cut is absent from Airbus A320 families.

Amazon Air 737
The 737 cockpit window has an angular shape downwards just behind the nose. Photo: Joanna Bailey/Simple Flying

The A320, meanwhile, is more round. Both designs adhere to the overall shape of the aircraft.

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Iberia A320neo
The rounder cockpit windows on an A320neo – notice that there is no downward angle in the shape of the cockpit windows. Photo: Iberia

What if I’m at the gate?

If you’re at the gate, your view is likely a bit obstructed to notice most of the features on the aircraft. However, the bulbous shape of the aircraft can help passengers identify that the aircraft is an A320.

An Airbus A321 at the gate. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

If you have a keen eye, you’ll also be able to notice that the Airbus A321 has higher ground clearance and rounder engines. Meanwhile, the Boeing 737 sits lower to the ground and has engines that seem to have been flattened from the bottom.

The slightly flattened engines of a Boeing 737 MAX. Photo: Liam Allport via Flickr

On the inside

In economy class, both aircraft are outfitted in a 3-3 configuration. Unless you closely examine the safety card or search for Boeing Sky Interior markers, it is not as easy to tell which aircraft you are on by the seating configuration.

Norwegian Interior
3-3 configuration on a Boeing 737. Photo: Boeing

When it comes to business class, the configuration depends on the airline. Most carriers outside of Europe operate business class as a separate cabin with different seats. This is usually in a 2-2 configuration. However, in Europe, the 3-3 configuration is maintained but the middle seat is blocked for comfort purposes.

US Domestic First Class on an A321 in a 2-2 configuration. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Overall

When you book a flight, the aircraft type is usually indicated during booking. Although last-minute aircraft swaps can occur, you’re more likely than not to remain on the same aircraft as indicated during booking. Furthermore, not all airlines operate both the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 family of aircraft.

The Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 are the most popular narrowbody aircraft out there. Hopefully, now, infrequent fliers will be able to tell the difference between the two!

4 comments
  1. Boeing aircrafts look like sharks and Airbus aircrafts look like belugas ,to me.
    “However,(For Business Class) in Europe, the 3-3 configuration is maintained but the middle seat is blocked for comfort purposes.
    I wonder why in Europe airlines are ordering 3-3 configuration in the entire plane & thus paying for an expensive extra seat (the middle seat) if in Business Class the middle seat is blocked for comfort purposes ?

  2. The best thing to differentiate is the rear wing integration to the fuselage. Airbus sorta curls into the fuselage while the 737 has the 120° cut before it integrates into the body. That’s the best way to spot the type of the aircraft

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