Along with the rest of the “gate lice”, I was flying “low class” back from Dallas on a business trip a couple of weeks back. You know the usual….cramped seats, militant FA’s, and Disney-bound crumb crunchers kicking your seatback. Ah, the joys of commercial airline travel. 

On the DFW-MCO milk-run in the past, American Airlines routinely utilized wide body B-757’s. Now, maybe due to the economy, AA is flying much smaller S-80 variants and jamming them full of people. Both outbound and inbound flights were overbooked. 

No matter how charming I am to the gate agents, nor how many frequent flyer miles or my Medallion status, I can’t seem to score a FC upgrade lately. Why is this? On overbooked flights using these smaller aircraft, there are simply too many business travelers vying for fewer FC seats. 

Anyway, schlepping along in 14E on the flight back from Texas, I needed a way to entertain myself. Out came the iPad and with it, I logged onto the ship’s wi-fi system. 

Besides getting caught up on some emails and listening to music with the iPod function in the background, the iPad allowed me to follow our flight’s actual progress over a moving map, and our proposed routing on a really cool website named www.flightaware.com.


In this screenshot you can see that we are over Mississippi on American Airlines Flight #600, an MD-83. We are at 33,000 feet cruising at 468 knots on our way from KDFW to KMCO.

This website can be very useful because you will be the first, and perhaps the only, passenger to notice that your crew has dozed off on the flight deck, and has over-flown your intended destination. Yes…. this has happened. 

The woman sitting next to me on this flight saw our flight path portrayed on my iPad. Her eyes got real big and she wondered aloud to me; “Is that OUR flight?” Like maybe I was some kind of terrorist or something. I should have thought to remind her that some Delta flights have GPS maps on the seatback in front of you, so not to worry.  

But I digress. 

Flightaware.com is a very useful tool for tracking both private and commercial aircraft. If you know the tail number, aka the N-number,  of any private aircraft you can track its location, altitude, airspeed and estimated arrival time. 

While flying to meet friends and family, they can easily check-in to see my arrival time, and will know when to leave for the airport. The website updates the aircraft’s position about every minute, so the results are near-real time. 

Flightaware is also useful when you are meeting folks at an airport arriving on commercial flights. All you need is the name of the airline and the flight number. Plug this info into your laptop or Smartphone and voila! You now know exactly when your passengers are arriving, and at what gate. Flightaware even has a new app for the iPhone. 

Best of all, this website is FREE! 

If you are flying commercial, Flightaware can be used to keep those snooty gate agents honest about the status of your delayed departures. The data on Flightaware comes directly from the airlines flight dispatch department, via FAA computers. It indicates the REAL expected departure times the airlines actually filed with the FAA. 

Knowledge is Power! 

I leave in the Bonanza for DeKalb-Peachtree (Atlanta) tomorrow for a business conference for a few days. I will check in soon.

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