When we're dashing for the check in desk at the airport or looking for the gate number to board, we use the flight number to identify where we should be going. Flight numbers, or flight codes as they should be known, also have a more macabre use in the media as the acronym for air disasters.
Many people know Pan Am flight 103 as the Lockerbie disaster, MH370 gained recent notoriety as the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March and now MH17 is added to the catalogue of infamous flight codes.
In these circumstances to ward off superstition and to honour the memory of those who died, the flight numbers are 'retired' and the flight taking over the route is given a new flight code. Already, MH17 has been replaced with MH19, just days after the disaster which saw the plane shot from the skies over eastern Ukraine.
Other famous flight codes are more nostalgic including BA1
, the early morning Concorde flight from London to New York, now retired, whilst still in operation is American Airline's AA1 flight from New York to Los Angeles.
Pan Am's flight 103
from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York is less well known by its flight code but more by the soubriquet 'Lockerbie', on account of the name of the Scottish village where the plane crashed after an explosion on board. The incident has also shared some of the blame for the collapse, three years later, of the Pan Am company.
American Airlines flight 77
was one of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers in 2001 causing the death of thousands of Americans. Whilst the airline still plies the route from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles, it's now renamed as AA149.
US Airways flight 1549
is another one that's often recalled to memory. Called the most successful ditching of a plane in history when it landed on the Hudson River in New York in January 2009, no loss of life occurred despite the river temperature being close to freezing. The plane was sold for scrap and its replacement was renumbered 1543.
Probably what will go down in history as the most famous flight code is that of Malaysia Airlines MH370 whose disappearance still puzzles the world today. Flying from Malaysia to China, the plane disappeared from radar and despite one of the most extensive and expensive aircraft searches in history, still no trace has been found. Conspiracy theories still surround the plane's disappearance with millions of dollars offered in reward for the 'real' story of what happened to the plane and its crew.
Already immortalised in a novella, it won't be too long before a blockbuster movie sets out to decide what happened, joining United 93, based on the events of 9/11, as Hollywood's answer to the truth.