In the course of my travels, I have discovered a few sites that are extremely helpful to get a smooth ride.
Airlines currently have an information advantage over the customers. They have all the data, you have none. Want to know how many seats are free? They know but they don’t want to tell you. When is that flight really coming in? Here they usually know, but sometimes they have no idea either!
Useful sites help by leveling the information asymmetry, allowing you to be more efficient and demand the right things.
One that I find immensely valuable, if I am flying or picking someone up, is FlightAware. It tracks all aircraft that are flying, right now. Want to know where the flight is? Go look it up and within a few minutes accuracy, you will see that your friend’s flight that was supposed to land at San Francisco in 30 minutes, is actually somewhere over Kansas.
I was stuck at San Diego airport, coming back from ETech. They announced that the incoming aircraft was 20 minutes late, and thus we would be 20 minutes late turning around. After a quick look at FlightAware, it was clear the incoming aircraft was still sitting on the ground at San Francisco. I walked up to the gate agent and asked him if it was really 20 minutes, he assured me it was. When I showed him the map of where the incoming aircraft was, he quickly apologised. He told me that was all the information the dispatchers had given him, and that they rarely get accurate data on delays. I could without any stress go and have a meal while I waited out the 75 minute delay.
They also have an beautiful visualisation of all flights over the US in a 24 hour window.