One of the most frequent tasks involving ground transportation operation is the flight check. It is the start or finish of the majority of orders, and also often is a mid-stream component in the execution of jobs and orders.
The easiest way to check a flight is old school style. Simply call the airline’s toll-free number and you can touch tone your way through it or opt for a live operator for a response. “A little side note when calling”, always opt for a Spanish speaking representative. Remember, English operators do not speak Spanish, but Spanish operators speak English. It will cut down your hold time.
Most airlines that still have frequent flyer programs and maintain airport lounges also have dedicated toll-free VIP numbers that get you through faster with better service, we used to get these as a courtesy from some of our regulars back in the day.
Now the best way to check flights with accuracy that exceeds all others is utilizing scanners to monitor the control tower. You can use a portable hand-held or desk top programmable scanner or most airports have control tower access on the internet. This process although 100% accurate is very difficult to learn and each flight check can have numerous steps.
Firstly, one must understand the process in which Air Traffic Control regulates and runs the system. On a routine arrival it starts with a plane entering one of 22 ARTCCs. That stands for Air Route Traffic Control Center. These facilities cover various regions around the country and their official task is “Sequencing and separation of over-flights, arrivals, and departures in order to provide safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of aircraft.”
For instance, in Chicago our ARTCC is in Aurora Il and it covers all of our local major airports and smaller private airfields. Once a plane it cleared for landing at O’Hare, the O’Hare tower takes over and assigns the plane to proper runway and you can actually hear the plane touch down. At that point ground control takes over to taxi the aircraft to its respective gate.
Although it all sounds basic and it basically is. Perfect monitoring and timing will prevail the majority of the time. It is when bad weather hits and it could throw the entire system into disarray. The one thing you must remember is the bad weather does not have to be in the arriving city to cause disruption. If New York is under bad fog and Chicago planes can’t leave it could cause gates to be occupied. A plane, although it has landed, may not be able to get into its gate to allow passengers to disembark. This is where the control tower scanning pays off.
The most common and efficient way to check flights today is by utilizing the internet. The internet gives you 3 primary choices to work with. Firstly, every airline, International and Domestic, have flight status links on their web sites. Secondly Google which probably processes more requests than all others is easy but not reliable. Its algorithm is based on if the flight departed on schedule this would be its status. I actually use google to bring up my flight check portals and it has a very unique feature. Whether or not the status is accurate it shows the terminal and gate number which comes in handy and in many cases will show it’s return flight underneath. I find that data useful in many cases so I usually treat Google as my entry level move to check flights. Lastly, are a few of the common flight check portals or websites.
First one is Flightradar24. I bring it up because many of our clients use it and swear by it, and some pay for the upgraded version. I tried it, tried the upgraded version and just could not get comfortable with it.
Next, we have Flightstats. One of our chauffeurs we work with has a brother who is a commercial pilot and swears by this site. Tried it, not comfortable.
Flightarrivals.com. I use this site for 2 primary reasons. Often the trick to checking a flight is not confirming its arrival but confirming it departed. I find flightarrivals.com is very user friendly when you program the search for all flights from point A to point B. It also helps when you have an incorrect flight number but you know the originating city. Another feature is with all the private aviation we all service now many charter operators have non published tail numbers. Flightarrivals.com will still show the flight progress in spite of that.
FlightAware.com is my preferred site. I am comfortable with it. I enjoy the fact that I can see a mini archive of the same flight to help find a rogue flight and fix a booking error. On certain International routes, aircraft that cross the International Date Line can show a false reading during a portion of its flight. The FlightAware site will eventually correct it but it also posts the late/early dynamic which allows you to plan accordingly until the flight resumes proper time structure.
When weather is bad, or air traffic has other issues it is always best to get a second opinion. Especially when flights start to get diverted. The biggest obstacle with diversions is that the diverted flights, when taking off again to complete the trips, can be so short that by the time the system updates it the flight can be on final approach.
Back in the day it was much easier. Flight numbers had many meanings which allowed a dispatcher more control and planning. Even-numbered flights were North and East routes odd-numbered flights were South and West. Today some airlines use the same flight numbers on both outbound and corresponding inbound flights. Then we have the code share 4-digit flight concept. It is safe to say that as the airline industry returns and changes and with the growth of private aviation the only guarantee is change is coming.
The bottom line is that it is a fragile system. It is a complex, massive symphony of parts, people, property and technology performing with precise precision. That is what makes the system work. And that is why we need to know what we are up against. Either way, understand your airline codes, get a good grip on the code share concept, and learn the actual airport codes. Unless you speak the industry’s language you will get lost in translation.
A couple random rants.
If a New York chauffeur is expecting an overnight flight from LAX which is 3 time zones away. His cell phone will often show the flight for the following day instead. If I check the same flight on a desktop in the Central Time Zone I will get an accurate reading. Many chauffeurs claim they put in the proper departure date but is does not work. I have studied this problem, researched it and am stumped.
When desperate I enjoy what I refer to as the “lifeline”, a client may call to let us know they have been at the gate for hours and were just told they would be boarding shortly. These lifelines are “real time” gifts that help us.
Lastly, some flight numbers are just tricky to check. 4 airlines have flight numbers 1800. Using Google as a gateway to check United 1800 will take you to hell and back.
And to the genius at Hawaiian Airlines who named the Honolulu to JFK flight, Hawaii 50. I am not amused.