If you’ve ever looked up at a plane flying by and wondered where it’s coming from and where it’s going, it’s actually rather easy to find out. Thanks to flight tracking programs, all the information about any given flight is just a click (or tap) away. These days, many flight trackers provide real-time updates about a plane’s location, altitude, and speed, and they can be used to monitor nearly all commercial and cargo flights, and even some private and military flights, too. So if you’re curious about where your inbound flight is, or if you’d like to track the arrival of someone you’re picking up at the airport, you can use a flight tracker to keep tabs on the plane.
Radar is technically still the global standard for tracking flights, but it has many limitations — numerous areas don’t have radar coverage, like the majority of the ocean. Today, flight tracking is shifting to a surveillance system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast, or ADS-B. Companies that track flights can use global networks of ADS-B receivers to determine the positions of flights all around the world.
How to Track a Flight
While the specifics vary depending on your tracker of choice, generally speaking, you can input any flight number into a flight tracking app or website and see all the key data about that flight, from its ETA to its altitude to its ground speed. Some flight trackers are less sophisticated and might only provide limited information, like departure and arrival times.
Best Flight Tracker Apps and Websites
On both the desktop website and the mobile app, you can input specific flights to track, or you can look at a global map to see what planes are nearby. We particularly like that you can add a weather radar overlay to the map.
Like Flight Aware, it has a global map for you to peruse current flights. But one of the most fun tools on the Flightradar24 app, specifically, is the AR feature. When you use it, it opens up your camera, and any plane within the image will be tagged with details like its flight number, departure point, and destination.
Plane Finder has both a global map showing air traffic as well as a search function to find specific flights using flight numbers, routes, callsigns, tail numbers, or even aircraft types or airports. It also provides useful data points for airports and airlines, from departure and arrival boards to a list of the different aircraft in a fleet.
RadarBox is another service that shows a real-time map of current flights. Our favorite feature is the most-viewed flights ticker at the top of the webpage, which is updated with real-time viewer stats. You can also tune into several air traffic control radios.
FlightView doesn’t have a full map like FlightAware, Flightradar24, Plane Finder, or RadarBox, but it does allow you to track your flights with ease by inputting either your flight number or your departure and arrival information. It also has a useful airport delay map, which shows the delay status of many of the major airports around the country.
FlightStats is quite similar to FlightView in that its sole purpose is tracking specific flights. You can also research current conditions at airports, from delays to weather forecasts, as well as see a full list of arrivals and departures at each airport.
Flighty is a particularly useful flight-tracking app that keeps your data from past flights, so you can track annual and lifetime data (for example, how many miles you’ve flown or how many different aircraft you’ve flown). It’s also ideal for keeping tabs on changing information in real-time, such as equipment changes, gate changes, and delays — and you can easily set up notifications.
Google Flight Tracker
Google’s flight tracker might not be very advanced, but it does provide some crucial information: departure and arrival times and gate information. All you have to do is search for a flight number on Google, and a box with those details will appear in the search results. There’s also a helpful visual to show you how much of the flight has been completed.
You can also track a flight via the airline’s app by navigating to the Flight Status tool (you can also find this on an airline website). Though each airline has its own tracking features, they typically show the departure and arrival times, gate information, altitude, and map of where the plane is located.