American Flag on airplanes

This is something I noticed a long time ago:

Airplanes that belong to carriers based in the U.S. have an American flag painted on both their left and right sides. If you look at the flag painted on the left side of the plane, it looks normal. But the one on the right side is backwards, i.e., the blue part is in the upper RIGHT corner instead of the upper left corner. This seems to be true for every commercial plane I’ve ever looked at.

Does anyone know the reason for this? Do the airlines have different rules for depicting the flag than everyone else?


It’s a gesture to the maritime tradition that inspired the early commercial aviation industry. When a ship flies a flag, it looks “normal” from the port side, but reversed from the starboard side. Since flags can’t literally be flown from aircraft, they’re painted to look that way.

Early airliners, such as the DC-3, did have flag brackets outside the captain’s side window. Upon landing, a flag literally would be flown during the taxi to the terminal, and would stay there until the taxi out for the next flight.