Published July 29, 2013
It's best to go to the airport with as much information as possible about your flight, whether that means knowing details about the aircraft you'll be flying in or whether you will need to bring along the credit card you used to purchase tickets. While the world of air travel can be confusing, we're here to help with any bumps that come along the way.
Q: Is there an easy way to determine how old the airplane I’m flying in is, other than obvious signs like ashtrays in the lavs or on the seat armrests? And is there a way to determine which airline(s) have the newest planes? I prefer flying on newer planes whenever possible.
A: One method is to note the plane's registration number (also known as the "N-number" for U.S.-registered planes or the "tail number," so called because it is usually displayed on the tail end of the fuselage) and look it up here. Just click on the airline's link and scroll down. For US-based airlines, you can also find the age and much more about the plane by going here and typing in the aircraft's N-number.
Granted, it might be difficult to see the registration number from the gate unless the plane is parked at such an angle that the number is visible, or unless you're boarding or deplaning using stairs (as you do at some smaller airports). And you might not be able to determine the registration number until you're actually about to board the plane.
You can also ask a gate agent or the pilots for the registration, although there have been reports of ill-defined security concerns when passengers request this information. I've also read that the registration number is sometimes displayed on placards inside the plane, either in the cockpit or near the doors or jump seats. You can also see the age of each plane in an airline's fleet by searching the planespotters.net site and that way get a sense of which airlines have the oldest fleet or you can search at airsafe.com.
Q: We bought an airline ticket for our teenage son using a credit card and sent him off to the airport. Even though he had a boarding pass printed at home and checked in online, when he got to the airport the airline asked him to show the credit card used to purchase the ticket. Luckily, my husband was available to rush to the airport to provide the card. Otherwise, he would have had to buy a new ticket or not fly. Why did the airline do this, and do all airlines require a credit card to be shown?
A: The only reason I can think of is to prevent fraud, but as you say, your son checked in online and had a boarding pass. I asked my Twitter followers if they had ever had this happen to them, and quite a few said yes. It’s fairly rare, but the worst that usually happens is the passenger must buy a new fare and get reimbursed when the original credit card is produced. In one case reported on Twitter, the airline called the parent of a teenager to make sure the credit card was authorized. Anyone who buys a ticket for someone else using a credit card should be aware of this scenario.