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The current generation of passenger jets have been optimized to the point of looking similar across makers and models. High bypass turbofans, wing and body design are all similar. For me, the quickest way to distinguish a Boeing and Airbus is nose taper and cockpit windows. Everything beyond that point are not unique enough.

It's like convergent evolution in nature - there are only a few possible 'best' solutions, so at some point everyone uses that one.

One example would be eyes in mammals and eyes in cephalopods: they are extremely similar safe for some details (the location of the blind spot is different, but it's there) even though both groups are hundreds of million of years apart!

There are other tell-tale signs, like wingtips, how the rear-end tapers out, number of wheels in the main landing gear, location of pitot tubes etc.

Wingtips alone will give away Airbus vs Boeing on all current in-production models.

If you can hear them, sound differentiates them pretty effectively too. Most Airbuses haven't been fixed yet.

Landing gear?

If it's deployed. Due to my partner flying for work I've seen most passenger planes from above while at the gate or in flight. Never paid attention to the landing gear except to note that it was down.

But for most people when they look at a plane it's either from the front or the back. Boeing planes have a sharp tapered nose. Airbus have rounder nose with a steep incline at the cockpit window. To me, one looks like a shark and the other a dolphin.

It get's complicated for the smaller, regional fleets. I know an ATR when I see it but I would have some difficulty differentiating an Embraer from a CRJ or 707.

707 was a quadjet, you mean 717? You can tell it apart by how the engines are mounted at an angle from the body (pointing slightly upwards).

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