My morning coffee ritual for just about any day that I’m flying involves checking in online (if my upgrade hasn’t cleared, I’ve probably checked in the day before). I check in online even if I have no access to a printer, and I’m not flying an airline or through an airport where a mobile boarding pass will work. I want to be checked in. If I’m running late, I can always re-print a boarding pass at the airport, but if I miss the check-in cutoff time I can’t be initially checked in. So online check-in is something I always do, and not just when I expect to be cutting it close, I’ve been caught in massive traffic jams due to freeway accidents, where a drive to the airport has taken an hour and a half instead of 20 minutes, being checked in already has saved me.
But once I’m checked in I also want to know where my aircraft is coming from. I want to predict delays, to the extent that I can. Because if it’s really important that I be somewhere, I’ll make contingency plans, try to hop on an earlier flight if I can.
Obviously I’m checking weather, but that’s fairly generic to an airport, sometimes it’s a good idea to get moving early (and I do do my best to avoid last flight of the day from most airports, since delays stack up over the course of a day, and during the summer in the Northeast those evening thunder storms can wreak havoc on flying).
So I always check my flight at FlightAware.
Flying out of small airports with limited schedules for a given airline, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out where your aircraft is coming from. Knowing the aircraft type, and there’s just a limited number of cities the flight could be arriving from and within about an hour or so of your departure time, you can track it back pretty easily at least by one flight.
But FlightAware is much more helpful than that. It actually shows the flight plan for the aircraft you’re scheduled to be on.
Just enter your flight number on the home page. It then pulls up a screen on the right hand side with a bunch of information about your flight.
One linked option is “Track Inbound Flight.” Click it and you’ll see the flight coming into the airport, where it’s coming from and whether that flight shows on time.
Then for that flight, click track inbound flight. You’ll see where that flight is coming from, and whether it’s on time. You can do this as far back through the day as you wish.
Of course, aircraft substitutions do happen during the day and there is no guarantee that the schedule that the airline plans to operate is the schedule that they will in fact operate. But it usually is the case, and is a pretty significant indicator of what to expect for your own flight during the day. If the inbound aircraft is delayed somewhere along its route for the day, chances are that’ll have downstream effects and influence your own on-time departure. And even if the flight doesn’t show a delay yet, how does weather look in the cities where the aircraft is coming from or flying through?
Now, I was on a US Airways flight not too long ago where the aircraft went mechanical, they offloaded us and boarded us onto another aircraft two gates down — while everyone waiting for their flight at that gate looked on — in initial confusion and then frustaation. US Airways had decided that operating our flight to New York was a priority over those passengers getting to Orlando on time. You won’t always keep the aircraft that is planned for you. And FlightAware would not have predicted those passengers’ delay. But it’s a great start.
And it occurs to me that I’ve never shared it on this blog, and haven’t really read about it on any others that I can recall, so figure it may not be universally known. Perhaps it’ll be a useful tool for y’all?