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Internet Flight Tracking Offers Peace of Mind

(Updated May 29, 2003)

Timely airline information through Internet flight tracking services can give many people peace of mind, especially amidst recent air travel anxiety. I take great comfort in watching the progress of a toy-like airplane icon moving across my computer screen. Why? Because this little icon isn't part of a game; it's my husband, a pilot flying an Airbus 321 as I write this column. Through technology, I can tell that he's cruising at 37,000 feet over Iowa en route to San Diego. It's just reassuring to watch the progress of a loved-one's flight, knowing that it's safely up in the air.

Track Facts

Flight tracking sites report the real-time status of most domestic flights by accessing FAA data collected from the nation's regional air route traffic control centers (ARTCC). All flights using instrument flight rules must submit a flight plan to one of the regional ARTCCs, which becomes part of the FAA data stream supplied to online tracking sites.

The Best Tracking Sites

Cheap Tickets FlightTracker (formerly Trip.com FlightTracker)

Cheap Ticket's free FlightTracker updates FAA data every three minutes. Here users can find specific flight information by simply selecting an airline and flight number, or they can search by departure or arrival city and time.

The flight-tracking tool allows users to track information such as plane position, take-off and landing times, air speed, altitude, and distance to arrival city. There's also a map of the aircraft's current location, along with detailed textual explanations of all pertinent information about the flight.

Trip.com also lets people send flight-status updates via e-mail to up to three recipients. Travelers can choose to have the e-mail sent up to two hours before or after the plane lands.

Flight Explorer

You've probably seen information from Flight Explorer used quite a bit lately on CNN and MSNBC newscasts. It's a service most often used by airlines, cargo companies, travel agents, and airports.

For the basic user, the Flight Explorer website offers a free tracker called FastTrack, which is updated every minute. With this service, users can see a map that shows the position, altitude, and speed of the flight, and unlike FlightTracker, they can check international flights too.

However, the real nifty stuff comes with the personalized version for $9.95 per month that offers real-time updates every ten seconds. This program provides a powerful set of filters to help users zero in on specific data like flight or tail number, aircraft type, origin, destination, estimated time of arrival, altitude, speed, and direction.

FlyteComm

FlyteComm allows users to track the status of any flight arriving or departing the U.S. or Canada, and is updated every five minutes. Additional flight details include departure, arrival, and delay times; aircraft type; current altitude and groundspeed; and forecasted weather conditions for the selected destination.

With these websites, people will never have to wonder whether a loved-one's flight will arrive on time. Just knowing is peace of mind.

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