Why most airline planes don’t have the number 13

Have you ever looked at an airplane seat card or noticed the numbering while on board and realized line 13 was missing? This practice is followed by several airlines around the world in response to the superstition that the number 13 is unlucky.

Falling row 13

In many cultures, there is a long-held belief that the number 13 is unlucky. And many airlines answered this by simply omitting line 13 in their seat numbering. Rows go from 12 to 14.

It may seem strange to make such a change in the cabin based on a superstitious belief. Most of the solutions and processes on airplanes are well thought out for security, and you can be sure that if lines 12 and 14 are secure, so is 13. But on the other hand, why not passengers feel a little more protected? If some really believe that 13 is unlucky, then they will not feel very comfortable if they get a place there. After all, it’s only a small change.


Which airlines do this?

Many airlines follow this practice. Some key examples include (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • In Europe, Iberia, Lufthansa, Air France, ITA and Ryanair skip line 13. However, there are notable exceptions. Among the UK’s leading airlines, for example, only Virgin Atlantic skips line 13; British Airways, easyJet and Jet2.com do not.
  • For the United States: United Airlines (on most types of aircraft) and Alaska Airlines (only on 737-800) to do this. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are not.
  • In the Middle East, Qatar Airways and Emirates follow this practice.
  • And in Asia, airlines using it include Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines.

The practice is not limited to one region. Photo: Getty Images

13 is bad luck for some

Why is 13 unlucky? Why is Friday the 13th such an auspicious day? The correct term to describe the fear of the number 13 is “triskaidekaphobia”.

There are differing opinions as to why 13 is considered unlucky. One explanation is that there were 13 people at the table at Jesus’ Last Supper, and it is believed that Judas (the disciple who betrayed Jesus) was the 13th to sit.

Another explanation has to do with Norse mythology and a fairy tale where a 13th uninvited guest joined the 12 gods at dinner. This 13th guest was the evil god Loki, who tricked the God Horus into killing Balder, leading to great mourning throughout the land.

Regardless of the original reason, the number 13 stands out for its discussion. Therefore, decisions can be influenced.

An Ohio State University publication shares:

“An obvious cognitive contribution to this belief system is patterns. Our brains find it much easier to associate things with each other when we see patterns or sequences that occur frequently. We as humans have evolved with the help of symbols and it is in our nature to use these associations in our daily lives. This is amplified when we connect with other people who believe and see the same patterns. They’re not necessarily misinformed, but they’re making connections in places they shouldn’t be. The most notable influencer on the 13th faith is the mass media. The media use these media to their advantage.”

Of course, it is difficult to ascertain how many people hold this belief. However, airlines are not the only ones to abandon the number 13. Many hotels and office buildings around the world do not display the 13th floor. In 2007, the Gallup company conducted a survey that examined hotel practices. It found that 13% of Americans would be bothered by being in a room on the 13th floor.

There is no row 14 on the United 737-800. Photo: United Airlines

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Lines 14 and 17 omitted

Of course, superstitions vary around the world. If you’re going to skip the 13th line in some countries, it makes sense that airlines would follow other superstitions as well.

In some countries (including Italy and Brazil), the number 17 is considered unlucky because of its meaning in Roman numerals. Rearranging the numerals XVII gives VIXI, which translates to “My life is over” in Latin.

Lufthansa is a great airline that skips line 17 to respect these superstitions.

In China and some other Asian countries, the number 4 is considered unlucky. In Chinese, its pronunciation (‘si’) is the same as the pronunciation of the meaning of death. For this reason, many buildings will not have a fourth floor, but this does not seem to apply to rows of planes (although both Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines do not have a row 4 due to their numbering systems).

But the practice does extend to the number 14, which has a similar phonetic resemblance to death. You won’t find row 14 on Cathay Pacific or Hong Kong Airlines, for example. It’s interesting Air China retains it, but some other Chinese airlines (including China Eastern) have dropped it. United is also a famous foreign airline that respects China’s faith.

You may find that United drops both 13 and 14 on long-haul flights. Photo: United Airlines

Simple but effective

In general, airline executives do not necessarily change the numbering because of their own beliefs. In practice, this will save a lot of time and avoid embarrassing discussions with superstitious customers who ask to change seats. For example, about 30% of US adults are at least somewhat superstitious. With a population of over 300 million customers across the industry, such moves are a no-brainer.

Small initiatives like this can make a big difference in the long run when it comes to customer satisfaction. They may not mean much by themselves, but these actions are part of it a broader passenger experience.

Want to share your thoughts on this superstition? Do you know more airlines around the world that skip line 13 (a complete list would be great!). Or any other airline superstitions you’d like to share with us? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Source: Statista; Ohio State University; Gallop

https://simpleflying.com/row-13-on-planes/ Why most airline planes don’t have the number 13

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