Updated by Dan Price on October 12th, 2016
People who have family in far-flung places, who travel frequently, or who simply have a love of aviation will all be acutely aware of the frustrations of air travel. Whether it’s knowing if a plane has been delayed, trying to work out what time to get to the airport to pick up a loved one, or working out landing times across multiple time zones, it’s not easy to navigate the minefield of information available.
There have always been websites to track flights, but with the advent of smartphones, life has become a little easier for seasoned users of airlines. Most major carriers now provide their own apps, and there are numerous services that can tell you exactly where a flight is at any given moment.
Here we look at some of the best flight tracker apps.
With more than 1 million downloads, the FlightAware app is one of the most popular flight trackers in the Google Play Store, and with an average rating of four stars off more than 21,000 reviews, you can be sure you are in good hands.
The app lets users see the latest updates and exact location of any commercial flight anywhere in the world, as well as any charter or private flight in the skies over the United States or Canada. The data provided by the app includes radar overlays, complete flight details, and even terminals of departure and arrival. It makes the app especially useful if you’re rushing to make a connection or your flight has been re-routed to a different terminal or airport.
Finally, you can create alerts for specific flights, enable push notifications, and share travel details with friends in your contact list.
We didn’t include this in our list of best Android apps, but it’s highly recommended!
Also known as FlightHero, this app offers real-time flight status information on most flights around the world.
It includes a real-time flightboard for your airport of choice, so you’ll always be aware of any delays or cancellations that you might run into. And it offers a 10-day weather forecast for any selected location so you’ll get an advanced warning if your trip might be affected by adverse conditions.
Most impressively, the app with sync with your TripIt account. It enables you to see your current flight statuses from within the popular travel app.
Google Now has lots of hidden features, but lovers of the service will be aware that for some time it has offered its users the ability to track their flights. To find out the necessary information, you simply need to search within Google Now for your flight number and the app will give you updates (if you have a flight reservation in your inbox — either yours or one that someone forward to you — this process should be automatic).
What is less-well advertised is that Google uses a service called FlightStats to provide you with the data. It means that if you either don’t have or don’t like Google Now, you can still access the same information.
FlightStats is available for free in the Google Play Store, and is a real-time flight status and airport tracking application. The full app actually offers considerably more useful material than the condensed Google Now version, and should definitely be part of your armory even if you are an avid Google Now user.
You can access any flight status in the world as long as you know either its flight number, airport of departure, or route. You can also watch flights move around the globe in real time, and you can access lists of delays, gates, and weather for almost all major airports.
This app is not free, costing $3.99 in the app store, however, if you are a keen aviation enthusiast, it will definitely appeal. In addition to the typical flight tracking and live updates, Flightradar24 includes some unique features that set it apart from the crowd.
Firstly, it includes a point-and-identify feature. That means that if you’re in your back garden, sitting at an airport viewing area, or driving along a road, and you see a plane in the sky — no matter how high or low — you just need to point your Android device at it and you will get a complete breakdown of flight number, airline, and destination; it works surprisingly well.
Secondly, the app includes a way to see what a pilot sees. This means you just need to select a plane from the map and you’ll be presented with a real-time 3D visualization what the pilot is looking at through the cockpit. Not so exciting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but a really cool feature when a plane is over cities or interesting natural landscapes.
The app works by using ADS-B transponders (something most modern aircraft are fitted with) to access a plane’s positional data. They claim they have a “rapidly growing network of several thousand ground stations around the world to receive [the] data” and thus can use multi-lateration to work out the locations of planes that don’t have ADS-B transponders fitted. They also have access to a live feed from the US Federal Aviation Administration.
There is a free version of the app — but that doesn’t include the appealing 3D visualizations, search functions, and data about altitude and speed.
So Which Is The Best?
If you’re prepared to spend some money, then Flightradar24 is the clear winner. Its depth of features and level of coverage (almost 100 percent globally) sets it apart from all the free offerings.
If you think Flightradar24 is a bit unnecessarily complicated, it is a tough choice between FlightStats and FlightAware. FlightStats will suit users on Google Now because the data and updates will be coordinated with the advice they receive elsewhere, but FlightAware’s NEXRAD radar overlay is an added boon for those who like to feel like a pro.
The advice? Try them all and settle on the one you are most comfortable with.
Have you used any of the four recommendations? If so, we’d love you hear from you. What features did you find worked well? Are there any features you wish were included? Let us know in the comments below.