App roundup: airplane flight tracking
As much as you’d like to be able to fly your favorite Cessna airplane on every trip, the reality is that airline travel is still a necessity for pilots. While all the major airlines offer mobile apps for booking flights and digital boarding passes, they’re not always the best option to track a flight. To help with this task, we’ve gathered our favorite apps to track airline and GA flights from your iPhone or iPad.
Flight tracking on iPhone, iPad and Mac
We’ll start with the simplest tracking options, which are built right into your iPhone, Pad and Mac operating system. First, if someone sends you their flight number in the iMessage app, it will be displayed as an interactive link. Tap on it, select the option for Preview Flight, and you’ll see a real-time display of the flight on a map and the estimated time of arrival:
You can retrieve the same flight data from a spotlight search on your iPhone or iPad:
You can also enter the flight number into a spotlight search field on your Mac computer to retrieve the status (press the Command and Spacebar keys simultaneously to display the search field):
To use this built-in iOS feature, you must enter the flight with the airline’s 2-letter IATA designator as the alphabetical prefix, immediately followed by the flight number. Here are some examples:
United Airlines – UA123
Delta Airlines – DL123
American Airlines – AA123
Southwest Airlines – SW123
Flight tracking apps
For more information and some fun interactive features, check out one of the many airline flight tracking apps are available on the app store. These are typically free to download and include free flight tracking features, and then offer a premium tier with additional features that require a paid subscription. Here’s a quick review of our four favorite apps and the unique features in each:
FlightAware – This was one of the original flight-tracking services offered online and the mobile app version provides many of the same features as you’ll find online. It is free to download and use (ad-supported) and includes several premium tiers.
- Track where the plane for your scheduled airline flight is coming from
- Send your airline flight’s scheduled flight plan to ForeFlight
- Flight alerts (push notifications) for the following: flight plan filed, flight departs, flight is delayed, flight arrives or flight is canceled
- FlightAware incorporates a robust data feed that is supplemented by individual users’ ADS-B receivers across the country
FlightRadar24– FlightRadar includes much of the same functionality as FlightAware and the basic tracking features are free to use (premium features require a subscription):
- The 3D view allows you to view a flight with a realistic model of the airplane in a 3D environment with satellite imagery
- FlightRadar24 also operates its own ADS-B network with over 20,000 ground stations to supplement the FAA data feed
- Filter by airplane type, which will show the location airplanes with a blocked N#
- Offers Apple Watch app
Flighty – While FlightAware and FlightRadar24 were designed to track all types of airplanes, Flighty is designed solely with the airline passenger in mind. And like the first two apps, Flighty is free to download, but the Pro features highlighted below require a paid subscription:
- Automated features will automatically import your flights from a calendar, Tripit or email
- Lock Screen Widgets (iOS 16) show flight info without having to unlock your iPhone
- Home Screen Widgets show flight info right alongside your app icons on the home screen
- Live Activities show up-to-date flight information on the iPhone 14 Dynamic Island
Plane Finder – Plane Finder includes both basic flight tracking capabilities and a few cutting-edge features designed to take advantage of the latest iPhone hardware.
- Explore mode lets you find interesting flights that are trending among other users, or flights that are squawking an emergency
- 3D mode lets you explore a 3D view of the globe to track flights (requires subscription)
- Augmented Reality mode allows you to point your iPhone or iPad at an airplane passing overhead to identify its flight status
- Offers an Apple Watch app
ForeFlight – The final flight tracking-related feature to point out is right in ForeFlight. You can search for a flight number from the Airports or Maps screens, and ForeFlight will load the filed flight plan as the active route.
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