I’m lucky to have grown up in a family where we were always flying around the country, visiting family and enjoying an occasional vacation. But I’ll never forget watching “Top Gun” with my dad as a kid, amazed by the military fighter jets that could roar off of an aircraft carrier before ripping past the speed of sound. To this day, I often listen to the title song, “Danger Zone,” as my much slower commercial flights accelerate down the runway.
While only military pilots get the thrill of regularly passing the speed of sound, large commercial planes regularly travel at speeds over 600 mph. Here’s what to know about the fastest airplanes commercial passengers can fly.
What is the fastest commercial passenger jet?
For current commercial airline passengers, the fastest way to get around is the Boeing 747-8i, with a top speed of nearly 660 mph But with limited options, you may find yourself going just a little slower on a competing alternative.
The fastest commercial passenger airliners that are in use
The 747 is one of the largest commercial aircraft ever built, and the 747-8 Intercontinental (747-8i) variant wins the race as the fastest commercial plane in service today. This plane is as tall as a six-story building with a top speed of Mach 0.86. That’s equivalent to 659.85 mph.
The 747-8i has a range of 7,730 nautical miles and a capacity of 410 passengers.
Unfortunately, it isn’t the most accessible plane to catch a ride on, since the options are limited to Lufthansa, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, Air China and Qatar Airways.
A member of the same Boeing 747 family, the 747-400 is a behemoth that can catapult 416 passengers across the world with a maximum speed of Mach 0.855 (656 mph). With a range of up to 7,225 nautical miles, it’s most commonly used for busy long-haul routes with high demand.
With a maximum takeoff weight of 875,000 pounds, operating a plane of this size isn’t cheap. So it is no surprise that the number of places you can fly on a 747-400 is dwindling. According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, current operators include Lufthansa, Korean Air, Rossiya, Air India and Air China.
The Airbus A380 superjumbo is the largest passenger aircraft in operation and has a front-to-back two-story design. The A380 typically seats 400 to 550 passengers for trips over 9,000 miles. If filled to maximum capacity with one cabin class, it could potentially seat 853 people. It’s so big that some airports can’t handle the massive size.
The A380 reaches speeds of Mach 0.85, just a hair behind the 747-400. That translates to 652 mph. While the A380 ended production in 2020, 15 airlines still fly the A380. These include Air France, British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The 787 Dreamliner had a rocky start, with battery fire problems causing the entire fleet to sit on the ground while a fix was rolled out. These days, due to lower operating costs and other modern features (like higher cabin oxygen and humidity), the aircraft is growing in popularity with international airlines.
The aircraft is propelled by two General Electric and Rolls-Royce engines at speeds reaching Mach 0.85, or 652 mph, making it the fastest single-aisle passenger aircraft in operation.
The Dreamliner is generally known to be quieter and more comfortable, so you may reach your destination with a little less jet lag. You’ll also get better views due to its larger windows with electronic dimming.
The 777 is a workhorse for overseas flights with variations, like the 777-8 with a range of up to 8,730 nautical miles and the newer 777-9 configuration with a range of 7,285 nautical miles.
The “Triple Seven” flies at Mach 0.84, or 644 mph and can hold up to 426 passengers.
You have several options to get on board a 777. Major carriers flying this model include Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, El Al Israel Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines.
Do you want to go faster?
The supersonic Concorde aircraft used to be the quickest way to travel. It had an impressive cruising speed of 1,350 mph, or Mach 1.75. That’s fast enough to make it from New York to London in under three hours. But those planes are long out of service, with the last flight taking place in 2003.
It’s not common, but you may be able to get somewhere faster by lucking out and catching a jet stream that occasionally brings faster speeds to planes on the way to North America from Europe. In 2019, one such flight reached 801 mph when surfing the jetstream over the Atlantic.
You can fly fast on the fastest planes in the world
While it may be fun to see over 600 mph on the in-flight entertainment screen, keep in mind that you’re probably only saving a few minutes once you take into account airport parking, security and ground transportation. If you’re flying commercial on any of these planes, know that you’re enjoying one of the fastest, safest and most convenient ways to travel ever invented.
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