How To Tell The Difference Between Boeing & Airbus Aircraft

It might seem obvious for anyone who has spent a lot of time around aircraft. But for others, aircraft identification may not come so easily. With many Boeing and Airbus aircraft taking similar overall shapes and competing models having similar sizes, how might one distinguish between a Boeing aircraft and an Airbus?

Chinese Airlines at Shanghai Hongqiao
The Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 may look similar from far away but have small features that set them apart. Photo: Triple Tree / Wikimedia Commons

Before we begin, it should be noted that there’s no distinct feature that runs through ALL airbus or ALL Boeing jets. It really does depend on the size of the jet and can also vary by generation. Sometimes even the exact same model can have different wings as sometimes winglets are an add-on option.

The easiest jets

For most people, the easiest aircraft to tell apart are the largest commercial passenger offerings from Boeing and Airbus: the 747 and A380, respectively. Both are massive, having four engines, and have two decks. However, that’s where the similarities end.

The most unique and identifying feature of the Boeing 747 is its ‘hump,’ which houses the cockpit and a small, partial-length upper deck. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

The dead giveaway is the iconic 747 ‘hump’- whether it’s an old 747-400 or the newer 747-8, the upper deck only runs part-way down the fuselage (although the -8’s upper deck is longer). The A380, on the other hand, has an upper deck that runs the length of the fuselage- from nose to tail.

Lufthansa A380 and 747
The Airbus A380’s upper deck runs the full length of the fuselage. Its winglets are also unique amongst quad jets. Here, you can see the 747-8’s lack of winglets as well as its serrated nacelles. This photo also shows the 747-8’s extended upper deck. Photo: Lufthansa

Winglets for these jumbos are unique as well. The 747-400 has a short, angled (“canted”) winglet while the A380 has a winglet that is vertical/90 degrees to the wing, extending both up and down (it’s much easier to show in a photo than to describe with words!). The 747-8 actually has no winglets at all but rather a raked wingtip. Its four engines have nacelles with serrated edges.

747-8 orders
The bulbous rear end of the 747 is also a distinguishing feature if you can’t see the other end of the aircraft for some reason.

Widebody twinjets

For the widebody twin-engine jets, it’s not as easy, but there are still a few easy tricks. The 787’s nose is fairly unique in its roundness and the way it blends seamlessly into the cockpit. The Dreamliner also doesn’t have any winglets- instead, it has raked wings, which bend significantly upwards. The 787 is currently the only widebody twinjet that has the distinct GEnx engines with serrated nacelles (as seen with the 747-8).

The 787’s nose blends and transitions into the cockpit seamlessly. Photo: Qantas
Air Canada
Without winglets, notice how “swept up” the 787’s wings are. These are known as “raked wingtips.” This photo also clearly shows the serrated engine nacelles. Photo: Air Canada
American Airlines B777 in the hangar
Notice how the Boeing 777’s fuselage comes to a flat, square ending at the back. Here you can also see the 777’s lack of winglets. Photo: American Airlines

Like the 787, the 777 is void of winglets and can be identified by the way its fuselage comes to a square end at the back. The 777 also has six wheels for each main landing gear. The Boeing 767 can be clearly identified as the only widebody with winglets that curve up with an “L” shaped bend. Unfortunately, not all 767s have this.

767s are the only widebody jets you’ll see with very pronounced ‘blended’ winglets. Photo: Air Canada Rouge

The A330 “classic” is set apart by its ‘canted’ winglets- this is something you’ll also see with the much smaller A220. It’s the same type of winglet you’ll see on the 747, but there are enough other distinguishing features with the 747 that there won’t be any confusion between the two.

The A330 is the only widebody with a canted winglet. Photo: Airbus
VS A330neo
The A330neo’s winglets are upturned with a smooth curve. Photo: Virgin Atlantic
Delta A330neo taking off
Again you can see here how the A330neo has a black border/frame around the cockpit windows. Photo: Delta Air Lines

The A350 and A330neo have fairly distinct winglets that curve gracefully out from the wing with no sharp angles. The A350s winglets curve up a little more. Both widebody cockpits of both aircraft feature a dark border/frame around the windows not seen with Boeing jets.

Finnair Airbus A350
Here you can see the A350’s unique winglet and framed, rounded cockpit window. Photo: Valentin Hintikka via Wikimedia Commons 

Narrowbody jets

For narrowbodies, it can be a little tougher – especially with a fair bit of variety between generations of 737s and also various options of the A320 family.

The 737s nose comes across as fairly distinct, coming to much more of a point than any A320 family aircraft. The A320 family of jets have noses that are much more rounded.

While it’s not a ‘sharp’ point, the 737’s nose does look ‘sharper’ than the rival A320. Photo: Qantas
Can you see the difference in noses with the A320 and 737? Photo: Defor Leukhin via Wikimedia Commons

The 737s side cockpit windows are also angled up at the bottom, which is also carried across all generations. The newer 737s have a unique split scimitar winglet not found on any Airbus aircraft.

Norwegian, Q1 results, Loss
The combination of split scimitar winglets and serrated engine nacelles are dead giveaways for a 737 MAX. Photo: Norwegian
Just like the 737, the 757’s side windows have a bottom edge that angles upward.  Photo: Getty Images

Many Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s have blended wingtips and therefore, may not be the best feature to help distinguish aircraft. The nose is probably the best feature to tell the two manufacturers apart.

Hopefully, this gives you a basic introduction into the most noticeable unique physical characteristics of certain Airbus and Boeing jets.

Did we miss anything? How do you tell the difference between Airbus and Boeing jets? Let us know in the comments!