I’m sitting at home, thinking maybe it’s time to fly off somewhere on vacation. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I know that hundreds of planes are taking off and landing at local airports throughout the day and evening.
But who’s up there now?
Believe it or not, my mobile devices know the answer.
Who’s Flying Over Me?
Two months ago, I analyzed how I might use my iPhone and iPad voice control feature, “Siri,” to plan and take trips. But at the time, I had no idea that “She” could tell me which commercial airline flights were flying above and close to me at the moment.
All I had to do was hold down the “Home” button on one my Apple gizmos and ask Siri “What flights are overhead?” to get a list like this.
Siri didn’t tell me where flights originated or would end. But checking her information against airline Websites told me that, and confirmed that she was spot-on.
The trick, of course, is trying to figure out a way to use Siri’s flight-tracking ability for a purpose other than idle amusement.
Where Are Those Planes?
The free FlightAware Flight Tracker apps for Android and Apple mobile devices, Windows Phone and Windows 8, let you track flights by flight number, route, or aircraft tail number.
Tapping on the “Nearby” button displays a map with airplane icons representing flights arriving and departing at airports near you.
Tapping on an individual plane’s icon brings up the origin, destination, and other information about the flight such as its speed and altitude at various times.
If you set up a FlightAware account you can share flight information via Facebook or Twitter, or ask to be sent alerts for the flight on the current day or in the future.
Choosing “Airport Activity” provides information on flights that are incoming, departing, en route, or which have arrived at a selected airport.
Tap on “Airport Delays” and you’ll get a map and list of airports where flights are delayed.
On any computer you can visit the FlightAware Website for that information and more.
During some flights you can use the airplane’s entertainment system to listen to conversations between air traffic controllers and your pilots as well as those for other aircraft.
The LiveATC Air Radio app ($2.99) for Apple, Android and Windows devices lets you listen in on those conversations. You can either hit the “Nearby” option under the “More” menu to get a list of all airports near you, pick the “Top 50,” or choose from an extensive list of airports in the U.S. and other countries. At each location, you can listen to the airport tower, ground control, local air traffic control center, or a myriad of others who are in communication with aircraft.
If you’re not enough of an aviation nerd to justify paying for the app, just use a Web browser to go to the LiveATC.net Website (where there are links for downloading the apps) and listen in for free.