Which preposition I have to use when talking about "airplane" or "aircraft"?

Should I use "in" like "in the car" or "on" like "on the bus?

"On the airplane / aircraft"


"In the airplane / aircraft"?

  • 2
    George Carlin had a joke about this. In English we get "on" the plane, but it really means to get "in" the plane. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue at work.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 19:08
  • 1
    Last time I flew, I was on the airplane, but my luggage was in the airplane. Related question.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 21:39
  • 1
    @Rob Telling someone who is not sure whether to use on or in that "'on' really means 'in'" doesn't strike me as being helpful :) Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 9:35
  • @Jim: Comments are addressed to the readership at large, not just the OP. That said, I think any correct information should prove useful to questioners here. This isn't a fourth-grade classroom, after all.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 13:44
  • @Rob In the context, on does not "really mean" in.What is correct is that there are many meanings of on. Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 17:34

2 Answers 2


When you board you get on (or on to, or on board) the plane; however while you are airborne, I certainly hope you are riding in the plane. These quirky English prepositions are the source of much humor, as with the George Carlin joke in Robusto's comment.

As with ships, boats, buses, and trucks, in general it's better to use on when referring to airplanes:

OK, I have to hang up. I'm running late to get on the plane.

Please refrain from smoking while on board the aircraft.

In is used when referring to the actual position of objects within the aircraft.

Although the primary systems are not expected to fail, there are two backups located in the tail section of the aircraft.

I got lucky -- I had only an economy ticket but the airline overbooked so they ended up seating me in first class.


In or on an aircraft (plane). The answer to whether it is in or on is: that depends.

  • We are flying or traveling on an Airbus or flying on a 747. For a type of plane where you are a passenger. In short, you fly on a plane, which is funny, because it similar to: riding on a horse.

Please note: one also travels on a train or on a boat or on a bus or on a bicycle or motorcycle. on is used to mean: on board a plane, boat, bus, or other means of transport. - He was on the bus when I saw him. - He was on his bicycle when we ran into him.

Naturally, with modes of transport that require boarding (planes, boats, trains, buses), you can also be in it as opposed to being outside of it if that requires clarification in some particular context.

One travels on a means of transportation or, of course, by x.

EXCEPTION to ON, and it is a big one:

One travels in a car or taxi, or one rides in a car or taxi.

all of these things can be by: to travel by car, plane, train, bus, bicycle, etc.

Also bear in mind how an ambiguity might arise:

Q: Where did you see the bad guy, John?

A: I saw him on the plane just now.

Q: What? Where was he sitting during the flight? What seat?

A: No, no, you don't get it. I saw him on the plane, standing on a wing outside the emergency exit.


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