Why Is the American Flag Displayed Backwards on Airplanes?

The next time you visit the airport, look at the tarmac and you’ll probably see numerous commercial airplanes with the American flag painted on their fuselage. In most cases, however, airplanes display the American flag backwards, meaning the stars are located in the upper-right corner rather than the upper-left corner. Regardless of size and type, most airplanes in the United States display the American flag in this manner. Unless you’re familiar with the U.S Flag Code, though, you might be wondering why the American flag is presented backwards on airplanes.

It’s Not Really Backwards…

First, it’s important to note that the American flag isn’t technically backwards when presented with the stars in the upper-right corner. It just looks backwards because we are accustomed to seeing it with the stars in the upper-left corner. If you stand outside in front of a pole-mounted American flag as it blows in the wind, the stars may be located in the upper-right corner, or they may be located in the upper-left corner — it all depends on the direction of the wind as well as where you are standing in relation to the flag.

The US Flag Code Requires It

Airlines don’t have the option to present the American flag with the stars in the upper-right corner; there’s a federal law in the United States requiring them to do so. Known as the U.S. Flag Code, it states that the American flag should be presented so that it’s “… facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.”  This applies to any instance in which the American flag is displayed on a uniform, car, truck, airplane, space shuttle or other types of vehicles.

While there’s no “flag police” who will arrest or charge airlines for displaying the American flag in a reversed manner, it’s still proper etiquette to comply with the Flag Code. The Flag Code has been around since 1942, and it contains several provisions on how to honor and respect the American flag. As mentioned above, one of these provisions is to display the American flag on uniforms and vehicles to create the impression that it’s flying behind the person or vehicle as the person or vehicle moves forward.

In 2018, the aerospace company Airbus tweeted why it paints the American flag with the stars in the upper-right corner when designing and manufacturing airplanes. In the company’s tweet, Airbus says that federal regulations — the U.S. Flag Code – require the American flag to feature this format when it’s displayed on vehicles, including airplanes.

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