Flight Tracking Made Easy

Technology has made it very easy to track an airplane’s progress as it departs one airport and travels to another. Whether it’s you on board or a loved one, it’s comforting to know the exact location of the plane.

I was flying on Air Canada a few weeks ago, and even we poor slobs in economy class had the opportunity to watch a crude representation of our airplane’s flight path set against the backdrop of a map. It was certainly more interesting than the movies they usually show.

Flight tracking isn’t a new thing, but I still find it pretty cool. It does make me wonder what happens if for some reason the pilot has to turn the plane around and return to the airport. Do they turn off the display, or let everyone on board continue to watch? I suppose if it’s an emergency, they might not let you watch. (Years ago, while I was on a flight out of San Francisco, the plane lost one of its two engines. I knew something was wrong when the pilot chatter I’d been listening to on the headset was replaced with a Donna Summer song. That’s always a bad sign.)

Several Web sites enable you to track flights from the comfort of your own home. Enter “live flight tracking” into your favorite search engine to find them. Some have more sophisticated graphics than others, and it seems true of their accuracy as well. Occasionally I’ll listen to the Tower frequency for Vancouver International Airport on my shortwave radio, watch the same aircrafts on final approach just a few miles from my house, and track those flights on the Internet.

Depending on how geeky you want to be, you can get pretty obsessed yourself when tracking flights. For a monthly fee, some flight tracking Web sites will provide you with text messages of updated flight tracking information on your wireless PDA or cell phone.