Whether you are about to head to the airport to catch a flight or pick someone up, or are an aviation enthusiast, there will be a time when you will want to track a flight or a specific aircraft.
Depending on what information you are looking for, you can track a flight on the Internet using Google, FlightRadar24, and LiveATC among other tools. Below, I will look at the reasons why you might want to track a flight as well as when you might want to use each of the three tools mentioned above.
What Are the Reasons to Track Flights?
There are several situations in which you might want to track a flight, so let’s take a look at a few of those.
First of all, if you are a passenger about to depart soon, you will want to track and monitor the status of your flight so that you can be aware of any delays or schedule changes that might affect your travel plan.
In this case, I suggest you to not only track the status of the actual flight that you are about to take, but also of the inbound flight – the flight of the aircraft you will board to the point of your departure.
By doing so, you will be able to find out about any potential delays earlier than the airport’s departures board will tell you about the delay. After all, if the inbound aircraft is 90 minutes late and it only has a scheduled turn around time of 60 minutes, there is no way your flight will be on-time no matter what the departure board says (many times it’s not updated until last moment).
Having this extra information can help you in re-arranging your travel plans or informing people that are about to pick you up at the airport as soon as possible.
Similarly, you might also want to track a flight if you are about to pick someone up at the airport. By knowing things like the expected arrival time, you can more precisely determine when to head out of your home.
That will be especially useful in case the flight is severely delayed. But, there are also times when long haul flights arrive more than an hour early, in which case, if you planned to go to the airport 45 minutes after the scheduled arrival time to allow for immigration, customs, and so on, you might be running a bit behind schedule.
You might also want to track a flight “for fun” and to stay informed in case someone you know is traveling on it. Knowing where their aircraft is at any given time and what their expected arrival time is will not only give you a peace of mind but will also help you know when you will be able to get in touch with the person on the flight (assuming they don’t have onboard wi-fi) among other things.
Finally, if you are an aviation enthusiast, there will be countless times when you will want to track a specific flight or an aircraft. Just to name a few, you might want to track an aircraft in a special livery to see whether it is headed to your home airport, or you might want to identify an aircraft that you see flying above your house.
Three Ways to Track Flights and Aircraft
Now that you know when you might want to track a flight on the Internet in real time, let’s take a look at three (and then some) of the tools that you can use to do so.
#1: Quick Flight Status Check: Google Search
Whether I am about to meet someone arriving on a flight or I am about to depart myself, the good old Google search bar is my go-to place for a quick flight status check.
Just like you can search things like “2+2” to get an answer to the math question or “boston london schedule” to get a list of flights between the two cities, you can also search for “[flight number] status” to get a quick overview of the status of a specific flight.
Google uses several different trackers to get the information depending on the flight you look at, and in general, I find the information to be very accurate. In fact, from time to time, I am able to find my flight’s departure gate through Google search before it actually shows up on the airport’s departures board.
Besides the flight’s departure gate and terminal, you can also get important information such as the scheduled departure and arrival time, as well as whether the flight is on-time, with just a quick glance.
Of course, you can also go to either the airport’s or airline’s website, or a site like FlightStats.com to check the status of a flight, but in general it will take you longer to do so and oftentimes you will get less information than when doing the simple Google search described above.
#2: Real-Time Flight Tracking: FlightRadar24
Method number 1 should cover most of your needs. However, if you are looking to get more details about a flight such as the aircraft it is operated by or its real-time position, you might want to take a look at FlightRadar24.
If you are an aviation enthusiast, you likely know the tool already. If not, it’s a website (and an app) that crowdsources (mostly) real-time data about flights all over the world and displays them on a map.
FlightRadar24 also let’s you see a list of arrivals or departures at a specific airport. If you are also interested in seeing the aircraft types and registrations operating those flights, then it’s a useful tool. If you want just a list of all the flights, going to the airport’s website might be an easier option.
Overall, while searching for a particular flight on Google gives you more practical information such as the terminal and gate information, using FlightRadar24 to track a flight with someone you know onboard can be the more entertaining option.
Just don’t stress if the flight suddenly disappears from the radar as it likely just entered an area without FlightRadar24 coverage! Similarly, some aircraft which lack the necessary technology or are blocked for security reasons might not appear on the radar at all.
#3: Listening to Air Traffic Control: LiveATC
The final way of tracking a flight I am going to mention in this article is, perhaps, the most “avgeeky” of them all – listening to the flight’s communication with air traffic control. While depending on the country you live in and how far from the airport you are, you might be able to listen using your own aviation scanner, here I want to look at LiveATC.
Just like FlightRadar24, LiveATC crowdsources its data. However, instead of reporting each aircraft’s position on a world map, it let’s you listen to various air traffic control streams from around the world.
You can learn more about listening to air traffic control in this article, but just to give you an idea, if you know which stream to listen to, you can hear the pilots of a flight someone you know is taking request their take-off clearance, receive their landing clearance, and so on.
Tracking Airline Flights: Summary
If you are an aviation enthusiast, you are likely already tracking flights on the Internet in one way or another. However, even if you just like to travel or are about to take a flight or pick someone up at the airport, tracking flights can be both useful and fun.
I definitely suggest using Google search with the “[flight number] status” formula whenever you want to know basic information about a specific flight.
Besides that, if you want to know more information about a specific flight or just want to track random flights for fun, both FlightRadar24 and LiveATC are great options. In fact, you might also want to use both of them so that you can see the actual movements while listening to the related air traffic communications.