How to Track an Airline in Flight
Whether you're wondering if your own incoming flight is on time or which plane is passing overhead, the internet age has made it easier than ever for aspiring pilots, impatient passengers, and general aviation aficionados to track individual planes – and even listen in on the plane crew's conversations with air traffic control.
The Obvious Flight Tracker
If you're waiting for a flight, whether you're traveling or meeting an incoming passenger, the obvious way to track an airplane is with that airline's mobile app or website. All airlines let you use either tool to track planes according to flight number, and most also let you search by schedule or city pairings.
More Plane Tracker Apps
Individual airline apps turn your smartphone into a flight checker. But a series of other, more general apps means you can browse through air traffic by area instead of airline.
A Popular Tracking App: FlightRadar24
For example, the Swedish app FlightRadar24 offers real-time tracking of more than 180,000 flights from 1,200 airlines. You can use the service through the FlightRadar24 website or their iOS and Android mobile apps, and it offers 100 percent coverage of planes at cruising altitude in Europe and the U.S., with somewhat less consistent coverage in other parts of the world.
Another Tracker: FlightAware
Another mobile app, FlightAware, offers plane locations, not just for commercial flights, but also charter and private aircraft, usually with only about a 30-second delay from live coverage. Perhaps the most compelling feature for some "planespotters" is the app's ability to calculate your GPS position and show information about flights you may see overhead. Like FlightRadar 24, FlightAware is available for iOS and Android devices.
Straightforward Tracking With FlightStats
If you're less concerned with planespotting and more interested in the basic statistics, FlightStats (also available for iOS and Android devices) offers the ability to search for flights by flight number, airport or route, then track your chosen flight in real time.
Augmented Reality in Plane Finder
The Plane Finder Lite app does what most of the other apps mentioned here do: It gives a range of tracking and flight information about planes in the air. But it's also available in an "AR," or augmented reality version. If you purchase that version, you can point your iOS device at a plane passing overhead and see its information. For avid planespotters, that ability is well worth the app's cost of about $5, although, unfortunately, the app is only available for iOS devices.
Other Planespotting Apps
For true airline fans, gathering flight information is just the start of the fun. For example, with the Airline Finder iOS mobile app, you also can explore in-depth information about aircraft and airline fleets.
Or, if you want to listen in on pilots and air traffic controllers as they work, you can use the LiveATC mobile app, which is available for iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices. The LiveATC coverage is provided by volunteers living near airports who use spare radio and computer equipment to relay transmissions into the LiveATC network.
Want to listen in on air traffic control and pilot conversations for an event that already has happened? A number of YouTube channels combine the audio transmissions with flight radar information, and, sometimes, even photos or videos, to give a big picture perspective of interesting moments in aviation.