Have you ever looked at an aircraft seat map or noticed the numbering when onboard and realized that row 13 is missing? This practice is followed by several airlines worldwide as a response to the superstitious belief that the number 13 is unlucky.
Dropping row 13
There is a long-held belief in many cultures that the number 13 is unlucky. And many airlines have responded to this by simply missing row 13 in their seat numbering. The rows jump straight from 12 to 14.
This may seem strange to make such a change in the cabin based on a superstitious belief. Most decisions and processes on aircraft are well thought out for safety, and you can be sure that if rows 12 and 14 are safe, then 13 is as well. But on the other hand, why not make passengers feel just a little bit more secure? If some do believe that 13 is unlucky, then they are not going to be very comfortable being allocated a seat there. It’s only a small change, after all.
Which airlines do this?
Many airlines follow this practice. Some main examples include (this is not an exhaustive list):
- In Europe, Iberia, Lufthansa, Air France, ITA, and Ryanair all skip row 13. There are notable exceptions, though. Among the top airlines in the UK, for example, only Virgin Atlantic skips row 13; British Airways, easyJet, and Jet2.com do not.
- For the United States, United Airlines (on most aircraft types) and Alaska Airlines (only on the 737-800) do this. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines all do not.
- In the Middle East, Qatar Airways and Emirates follow the practice.
- And in Asia, airlines adopting it include Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Thai Airways, and Singapore Airlines.
13 – unlucky for some
Why is 13 unlucky? Why is Friday 13th such an auspicious day? The correct term for fear of the number 13 is, in fact, ‘triskaidekaphobia.’
There are differing views as to why 13 is considered unlucky. One explanation is that there were 13 people at the table for Jesus’ Last Supper, and it is believed that Judas (the disciple who betrayed Jesus) was the 13th to be seated.
Another explanation relates to Norse mythology and a tale where a 13th uninvited guest joined 12 gods during dinner. This 13th guest was the malicious God Loki, who tricked the God Hoor to kill Baldr, leading to much mourning across the earth.
Regardless of the initial cause, the number 13 stands out due to its discussion. Thus, decisions can be influenced.
A publication by the Ohio State University shares:
“An obvious cognitive contribution to this belief system are patterns. In our brain, it’s a lot easier to assign things to each other when we see patterns or sequences that frequently occur. We, as humans, evolved through symbols and its in our nature to use those associations in our everyday life. It strengthens when we connect with other people who believe and see the same patterns. They aren’t necessarily misinformed but are forming connections in places that weren’t meant to be. The most notable influencer to the 13th belief is the media. The media uses those outlets to their advantage.”
It is hard to find out how many people follow this belief, of course. However, it is not only airlines that opt to skip the number 13. Many hotels and office buildings around the world omit floor 13. There was actually a poll carried out by Gallup in 2007 that looked at the practice in hotels. It found that 13% of Americans would be bothered by staying in a room on the 13th floor.
Missing out rows 14 and 17
Of course, superstitious practices differ around the world. If you are going to miss out row 13 in some countries, it makes sense that airlines would also follow other superstitious beliefs.
The number 17 is considered unlucky in some countries (including Italy and Brazil) due to its meaning in Roman numerals. Re-arranging the numerals XVII gives VIXI, which in Latin can be translated as ‘My life is over.’
Lufthansa is a standout airline that misses out row 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 that of the word for death. Many buildings will miss out the fourth floor for this reason, but this does not seem to spread to aircraft rows (although both Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines do not have row 4 due to their numbering systems).
But the practice does extend to the number 14, which has a similar phonetic similarity to death. You won’t find row 14, for example, on Cathay Pacific or Hong Kong Airlines. Interestingly Air China keeps it, but some other Chinese airlines (including China Eastern) drop it. United as well is a notable foreign airline that respects the Chinese belief.
Simple but effective
Altogether, the airline managers don’t necessarily make the shift in numbering because of their own beliefs. In practice, it would save plenty of time and awkward discussions with superstitious customers who ask to switch seats. For instance, around 30% of US adults are at least somewhat superstitious. With a population of over 300 million, customers across the industry are put at ease with such moves.
Small initiatives such as this can be a difference maker in the long term when it comes to customer satisfaction. By themselves, they may not mean much, but these actions are part of the wider passenger experience.
Source: Simple Flying