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Why There is No Row F on Chinese Airplanes (Apparently)

I learn why the Chinese don’t use the letter F to designate seats on their airplanes. Well, maybe.

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I stood at the gate for my Air China flight requesting to have my family’s seats rearranged so that we could sit together. I was handed back my boarding passes and realized that while we were in the same row we were not in sequential seat letters. I asked about this.

“There is no row F,” the girl informed me.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because in Chinese the word for four sounds like the word for death.”

In China, homonyms and near homonyms with auspicious or taboo words likewise carry the aura of the respective fortune. This is especially true when it comes to numbers. The word for four, sì, sounds similar to the word for death, sǐ, which is what the Air China representative was talking about.

I thought about this for a moment.

“What does that have to do with the letter F?” I finally asked.

“Because the word four sounds like death,” she repeated.

I considered the possibility that I was missing something.

“So you don’t have a row F on your plane because the English word for four starts with an F?”

“No, in Chinese.”

“But the word four is sì, and that doesn’t have an F or anything close to an F sound in it.”

“It’s just what we think,” she spoke with finality as she suddenly turned and walked away from me.

It’s just the way we think.  

A statement that could qualify as the Chinese national slogan.

I didn’t bother asking what happened row G.


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Filed under: Air Travel, China, Culture and Society

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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