Why Do Airlines Designate Aircraft As “Flagships”?

Airlines often describe a type in their fleet as their flagship aircraft. Different planes are given this title depending on the carrier. However, what actually determines a flagship, and why do operators choose to have one? Let’s take a look.

Emirates A380
The Airbus A380 has become synonymous with Emirates and its international operations that reach all across the continents. Photo: Getty Images.

Through the centuries

In a traditional sense, this terming is related to naval travel. Generally, a flagship is the transport used by the commanding officer of a group of ships.

This tradition is still kept alive today. For instance, at the beginning of this year, the Royal Navy announced that Fleet Commander Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd was received on HMS Queen Elizabeth to mark the transfer of the flagship role from HMS Albion. Moreover, commercial naval operations have also utilized the term. The designation has been used loosely over the years, with the flagship often being the most suitable vessel to lead the pack.

LAX Delta Air Lines and American Airlines
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have been in legal battles over the use of the word flagship due to American‘s trademarks over the term. Photo: Getty Images

A different industry

Naturally, like with other naval words, the term flagship hopped over to aviation following the rise of air travel. In a commercial sense, the definition is broader. Nonetheless, similar to their counterparts on the sea, the aircraft that has been designated as the flagship is the one to represent the company.

Numerous factors can determine a flagship. Reliability, efficiency, popularity, and longevity are all key aspects. Nevertheless, regardless of the attributes of a flagship, they all contribute to the plane’s ability to represent the company across the skies.

Airbus A350-900 XWB
Even manufacturers can influence the industry’s decisions by designating their productions as flagships, such as Airbus putting its faith in the A350 amid the A380’s production end. Photo: Getty Images

They are often deployed on the airline’s key routes, such as the most lucrative. While, in other cases, such as with Emirates and its Airbus A380s, they are chosen to lead the airline in a new chapter following a significant investment.

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In some cases, they are the only type in the fleet. For instance, Southwest only operates Boeing 737 aircraft and airBaltic only holds Airbus A220 jets.

Southwest 737
The Boeing 737 has represented Southwest Airlines since the carrier’s early days. Photo: Getty Images.

A loose term

Altogether, the term flagship is mainly used metaphorically today. An airline’s flagship can also change. For example, British Airways’ famous Boeing 747s left the fleet last year, meaning that the carrier has been left without a flagship. The Airbus A350 is now being tipped to take on the position. Notably, the A350 is another widebody jet that many operators view as a modern replacement for the 747. So, overall, the flagship meets the requirements of an airline’s key operations.

What are your thoughts about flagship aircraft? Which is your favorite one across the globe? Let us know what you think of these planes in the comment section.