Tuesday, September 14, 2010

LAX aircraft spotters' guide: Boeing 737, Part 4: Recognition Cues

This is the conclusion of the B737 spotters' guide series. There are three previous segments:

As the most common jetliner around, the B737 is a regular sight at airline airports all over the world. However its arch rival, the Airbus A320 series, is most likely also seen at those same airports. Since the two are basically similar in appearance, here are a few pointers for differentiating them.

We'll start with some views of both a B737 and an Airbus together. In each of these shots, the Airbus is in the foreground:

American B738 with an Air Canada A320

Continental B738 and a Virgin America A319

Alaska B738 and Volaris A319

Delta B738 and A320

Southwest B737 with a US Airways A319

AeroMexico B737 and Virgin America A320

Alaska B738 with Air Canada A320

Just for the sake of variety, here's a shot with the positions reversed:

Virgin America A320 and WestJet B738

The easily-spotted differentiating characteristics are the shape of the nose, the presence or absence and size of winglets, and the tail. We'll start at the front, with the noses:

The B737 (here modeled in blue by Southwest) nose appears more angular than that of the Airbus (seen here in US Airways and Jet Blue colors, respectively), which is more rounded. The shape of the cockpit windows also differs; on the Airbus the bottom of the windows forms a relatively straight line as compared to the pronounced angles on the Boeing. On the Airbus, the nose gear is a bit farther aft, almost directly beneath the front passenger door. The B737's nose gear is positioned between the rear of the cockpit windows and the door. Also, when the landing gear is down, the Boeing has much larger nose gear doors showing (this is because the B737's doors stay open while the gear is down, whereas the A320's nose doors close again).

Meanwhile, at the other end:

The B737 has a dorsal fin that angles into the vertical stabilizer, but there is none on the Airbus. Also, the tailcones are very different; the Boeing's truncated design is reminiscent of a boat, while that of the Airbus makes me think of an anteater:
Giant ant eater

When it comes to the wings, all the Airbuses have the same little triangle-shaped winglets, which remind me of Delta Airlines' current "lazy widget" tail livery. The B737s, meanwhile, either have great big honking winglets or none at all. This is largely determined by the operator, as most of the current B737 models can be equipped with winglets if so desired. One interesting detail is that some B737 operators have chosen to paint their winglets differently on one side compared to the other. Check out the AeroMexico and WestJet pictures for examples.

And that brings me to what is usually the simplest way to determine if you're looking at a B737 or an A320: Whose name and logo are painted on the side? Most carriers have one or the other; few have both. Currently, the only regular operator of both B737s and A320s at LAX is Delta. US Airways still has B737s, but they hardly ever show up here anymore. Frontier and United both used to have B737s and now have Airbuses instead. Alaska and Southwest have nothing but B737s; similarly, American and Continental are all-Boeing fleets, although not just B737s. Air Canada brings in Airbuses, while competitor WestJet uses exclusively B737s; AeroMexico flies B737s, whereas Mexicana and Volaris use Airbuses (Mexicana did, anyway, back when they were still flying).

An early-morning view of Terminal 1, with a variety of B737 and A320 models

A similar shot, showing Southwest aircraft double-parked in the D-7 alley. This view makes it easier to discern the taller tails on the newer -700 models.

A question during a recent phone conversation with a friend reminded me of another detail difference between the Classics and the Next Generations: the shape of the engine cowlings. The Classic series (-300/-400/-500) have flattened bottoms on their cowlings, as modeled in the first shot by an Alaska B734. They look sort of like they would if they were made round out of something like chocolate, and then left sitting on the ground out in the hot sun too long. The newer Next Generation models have more circular cowlings, shown here on a Southwest -700.

And speaking of Southwest, I here's another shot of that -700. Here you can clearly see the orange-painted flap track fairings which I mentioned in an earlier segment.

Gratuitous B737 photos:

Big Brothers:

Remember this shot of a WestJet B738 dwarfing the neighboring B736?

Not so big when parked next to an Air New Zealand B763!

Okay, now it's quiz time. Find the B737 in each of the following photos:

And that's a wrap! They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and by that count I reckon this spotters' guide series on the B737 has been about the equivalent of the Encyclopædia Britannica!


  1. Thanks - Glad you liked it. I'm intending for the LAX aircraft spotters' guide series to be a regular feature, so watch for more. Any suggestions for which one to do next?

  2. Very cool. Almost didn't spot the AirTran in Photo 7! I guess it would be appropriate to cover the 737's rival, the Airbus. I'm sure you have an arsenal of pics. Whatever you decide to do, I'll enjoy.

  3. Some really neat photos in this installment!

    I think I spotted all the 737s - except in the mob scenes.