My Mom flew in to visit me yesterday and her flight got in 30 minutes early. I had no way of knowing that, however, so ended up getting her late. Awkward. So how can I track flight info to ensure this never happens again?
Commercial airlines have had online flight status information pages for years, and they’re all mobile friendly, so honestly, there’s not much excuse for you not being able to track your Mom’s flight. Even if she didn’t tell you what her flight number was. As long as you know a little bit about a flight you can track it down online nowadays. For example, you know origin and destination and an approximate arrival time? That’s plenty to isolate an individual flight and figure out what airline they’re on both.
But there are much faster and slicker ways to track airplane flights nowadays that don’t involve even going to the airline’s Web site or using an airline smartphone app. Both Google and Bing can give you live flight status information with the search of a flight number, for example. And then there’s my favorite site, FlightAware, that can even show you the plane’s route on a map, with weather and more.
Let’s start with the easiest of all. If you know the airline and flight number, enter them as a Google search and the info will all just show up to let you know exactly what’s going on with that particular flight:
Here’s a flight from San Francisco to Denver and notice I entered the longwinded “southwest airlines flight 1921” query. I’d get the exact same results with the search “swa1921”, which is even easier to enter on a mobile device.
Above you can see that the flight’s running 10 minutes late – with a scheduled departure of 1.05 but an estimated departure of 1.15. You can even see assigned departure and arrival gates. Meanwhile, above that there’s a green icon that shows “ON TIME” which suggests (correctly) that flight schedules have a bit of wiggle room built in so if they are a few minutes late leaving the gate that the flight can still be considered on time anyway.
Bing offers very similar results if you’re not a Google fan:
Bing has a tiny leg up here because I like the “Arrives in 2 hr 5 min” rather than the wall time scheduled arrival that Google shows. A nuance, I know.
So those are useful, but the plane along the progress bar is based on predicted data, not actual date (the flight ended up departing 40 minutes late, even though the above suggests it’s already en route). Which is where FlightAware comes into play. It’s fantastic and duplicates the in-flight progress screen you’ll see on a lot of flights nowadays. You don’t even need to know the flight:
Easy enough, and when you enter the correct flight info, you get all sorts of interesting information too:
You can even see the filed flight plan route (the last line) which takes a bit of decoding, but you could figure out the exact route and where the plane is going to change course en route taking it about 80mi further than the direct “as the crow flies” route between the origin and destination (see distance planned vs direct).
Or you can just look at the flight info and map:
Yeah, I saved the best for last. I just think this information is really cool, the route, the current flight info, the tracking data, and the schedule hiccups: Notice they left 40 minutes late but are going to be able to make up 20 minutes of that en route.
So that’s it. Next time your Mom’s en route, pop over to FlightAware and watch her little tiny plan make its way across the map towards you and know exactly when it’s going to land and get to the gate! 🙂