Perhaps it seems obvious, but I couldn't find a plausible reason why they do so other than that it evokes negative emotions among passengers and crew. Could there be other reasons to do so?

For example, flight number MH370 was retired as a "mark of respect" for the passengers and crew.

And out of interest, is there any case where an airline company reused a retired number for any reason or in certain circumstances?

  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is that flight numbers are retired only if there were fatalities. I could be wrong though. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Dec 9 '16 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ At the risk of stating the cold hard capitalist view, companies don't truly retire or reuse flight numbers on moral grounds but rather on economic grounds. As it happens, people are (rationally) still willing to fly the same airline and same flight, but (irrationally) less willing to buy a ticket for a recently-crashed flight number, so companies that have a (fiduciary) duty to maximize value for shareholders will (rationally) renumber the flight. In almost all cost-benefit analyzes, a renumbering costs less than expected sales. $\endgroup$ – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Dec 11 '16 at 4:07

consider if you Google a flight number you can see the flight status, imagine if the number was from a past crash, you might for a moment think the one you're looking up had crashed

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ That's disturbing. If I were to pick someone up on an AC 797 flight, and I Googled it, this is not the screen I want to be looking at. $\endgroup$ – Nelson Dec 9 '16 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ IMHO this isn't the main reason (like other answers mention and I also believe - it's to do with emotions), but it's a valid point I wouldn't think of. $\endgroup$ – pajonk Dec 9 '16 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ Flight numbers were retired after crashes long before Google ever existed. While this is part of a good reason to do it now, it isn't the whole reason why it has generally been done in the past. $\endgroup$ – J... Dec 9 '16 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ @J... Fair enough "imagine you're Lycos'ing a flight number and..." $\endgroup$ – coburne Dec 9 '16 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say it's a modern example of the emotional reasoning $\endgroup$ – MetaGuru Dec 9 '16 at 15:30

Retiring flight numbers after crash is mainly done to prevent the flight evoking negative emotions among future passengers. You don't want the flight number to conjure up images of crash while booking tickets, especially in when you type the flight number and google shows up the wreckage just below the flight data.

Also, it would be quite insensitive, with friends and relatives being reminded of their loved ones every time they hear about the flight.

However, it is not necessary that the airlines have to retire the flight numbers because of a crash. A number of them are being used, a few examples being:

  • $\begingroup$ Seems a bit over the top to me. It's just a number, and can be assigned to any plane/flight. "Flight 797 is bad! Flight 798 is good!"... :/ $\endgroup$ – SnakeDoc Dec 9 '16 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @SnakeDoc that seems rather egocentric. I'm sure those who have lost a loved one in a crash would disagree, for starters. $\endgroup$ – moodboom Dec 11 '16 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @moodboom Do we retire car models when loved ones die in a crash? $\endgroup$ – SnakeDoc Dec 11 '16 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @SnakeDoc good point. Although maybe in the case of cars like the Pinto and Yugo, we should. :-) $\endgroup$ – moodboom Dec 11 '16 at 20:13

You answered your own question, they retire numbers because of the emotional context. Some people think that using such a number again shows a lack of sensitivity to the dead and their families, others might think that getting on a flight with the same number would be bad luck. It's irrational, but many people would feel uncomfortable getting on a flight with the same number.


It's also done for calming passenger superstitions about such things as well. Kind of the same reason that many skyscrapers do not have or list a 13th floor or nobody would board a flight listed as "United 666" or that left handed people are possessed by demons, etc. You would like to believe modern people would not be influenced by such nonsense, yet how many people did you see reading horoscopes on the train on your way to work this morning?

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    $\begingroup$ Anecdotal comment. Finnair flight 666 to Helsinki (HEL) departs every day from Copenhagen. Flies on Friday the 13th as well. $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Dec 9 '16 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ Try doing that same flight in the US or some other nation which is very religious - you'll quickly meet stiff resistance. I've met people who won't pay a bill if it totals $6.66. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Dec 9 '16 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ I flew AY666 in row 13 (seat F, to get another 6) on a Friday 13th, just for the HEL of it. And just to give Fate the middle finger, I bought a Lego airport fire engine in the departure lounge at CPH. Listening to conversations on board, several people had chosen the flight deliberately; one woman had had three members of her family diagnosed with cancer in six months and was hoping to "break the curse". $\endgroup$ – Ed Daniel Dec 10 '16 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard "Finnair Flight 666 to HEL makes final Friday 13th departure.". They seem to have renamed the flight in 2017 $\endgroup$ – Vinicius Brasil Aug 13 '19 at 22:08

I am a retired airline employee, the reason for retiring a flight number is for the respect of any fatalities. No other secret reason. (At least the “original” Airlines) it was ALL ABOUT RESPECT AND NOTHING ELSE.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi. What is an "original" airline? As another answer shows, major airlines such as Delta that's been around since 1929, has exceptions. Perhaps you can provide an example based on experience? Also try not to use all caps, it comes across as shouting. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 May 28 '19 at 21:15

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