Traveling during the holiday season is not generally a very relaxing experience thanks to crowds and flight delays—but there are ways to make the ordeal a lot less stressful thanks to handy little things called flight tracker apps. These pieces of software—easily downloadable on a smartphone or tablet—not only track your flight and alert you to delays, they’ll often go above and beyond, allowing you to pinpoint your exact location at 40,000 feet, and even giving you a rundown of the best places to eat during your six-hour layover. With scores of flight tracker apps to choose from, we’ve picked 10 of the best.
FlightAware Flight Tracker (free; iOS, Android): In addition to tracking the real-time flight status and location of any commercial flight worldwide, FlightAware can give you the whereabouts of those lucky enough to be cruising on a charter or private plane. With a GPS system that lets you determine your own whereabouts, see which aircraft are in your nearby vicinity (and where they're headed), and zoom and pan around a map of the world, this free app is an aviation geek's fantasy.
TripTracker (free; iOS): To call this free app "comprehensive" would be an understatement. In addition to real-time flight status reports, TripTracker delivers up-to-the-minute itinerary push alerts, weather reports, and even hotel and car rental information. The app becomes an all-in-one, handheld itinerary as all of your travel details—including flight info, hotel confirmation and car rental details—are automatically updated to your phone.
FlightTrack ($4.99; iOS, Android): A recent report by DePaul University's Chadwick Institute for Metropolitan Development indicated that a growing number of airline passengers (more than 35 percent) are utilizing portable devices in flight, but only 10 percent are using WiFi service. Which makes FlightTrack's offline capabilities—including real-time updates on delays, gates and cancellations for more than 3,000 airports and a zoomable map—practically a necessity.
GateGuru (free; iOS, Android): As part of the TripAdvisor family of travel products, GateGuru aims to take the guesswork out of your travels and customize your door-to-door adventure. It offers all the basic flight tracking capabilities, but where GateGuru really exceeds is in customizing your travel day plans. Once the details are set, input your itinerary and GateGuru promises to "connect the dots," spitting out detailed info on where to check in, current airport weather conditions, estimated security wait times, airport amenities (with more than 35,000 reviews from TripAdvisor users), and last-minute deals on car rental rates.
FlightBoard ($3.99; iOS, Android): Sometimes all you want is a simple flight board—the kind you can find in any airport that lists all arrivals and departures in a simple, easy-to-digest design. Which is exactly the kind of straightforward information that FlightBoard offers for more than 1,400 airlines traveling to and from more than 3,000 airports, with updates made every five minutes. If the app's appealingly old-school design looks familiar, that's probably because it's based on the flight board of Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
AirportZoom (free; iPad): You'll need an iPad if you want to take advantage of the gorgeous graphics that AirportZoom has to offer, providing users with a ton of useful information, including gate changes and flight delays; detailed maps for more than 120 airport terminals; reviews of on-site restaurants, shopping, and services; current weather reports (plus a seven-day forecast) and even barometer and dew point info (which is great for those lucky few who know what to do with it).
FlightView (free; iOS, Android): A trip through the airport is a bit of a balancing act; there are shoes and jewelry to remove, laptops that must be placed in their own tray, IDs and tickets to keep in order—the list goes on. FlightView's My Trips function lets you organize your itinerary, from car service to hotel reservations; simply forward all of your travel confirmation emails and let the app do the rest.
iFly Airport Guide (free; iOS, Android): No two airports are created equal, and neither are their amenities. This free flight tracking app is a must for frequent travelers, offering you essential information on more than 700 airports, including a list of which restaurants are closest to your gate (complete with user reviews), whether or not there's WiFi, parking rates and locations, on-site banks and ATMs, and what your transportation options are if this is your final destination.
Flightwise Tracker Pro ($9.99; iOS): Though there's a $.99 "Lite" version, Flightwise's pro edition is well worth the sawbuck for serious aviation buffs. Its advanced capabilities include a range of archived data, going all the way back to 2001. Yes, you can pull up the current position, destination, and arrival time of any plane within American airspace. But with the touch of a few buttons, you can also easily retrieve images and specifics of the plane, including its flight history.
Flightradar24 ($2.99; iOS, Android): Play air traffic controller with Flightradar24, an app that's both educational and entertaining. At its most basic level, you can review such real-time flight status info as scheduled and actual departure and arrival times, plus the route, speed, and altitude of individual flights. The fun part comes with features like Cockpit View, which allows you to see through the eyes of a pilot, and an Augmented Reality View, which identifies the planes flying overhead once you point and click your phone's camera.
More from CNTraveler: