Skip to content

How to track where your plane is coming from before your flight

Nov. 22, 2021
5 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


My friends had plans a while back to fly to San Francisco (SFO) from Newark (EWR) on Alaska Airlines. They weren’t particularly familiar with Alaska or their route network but had booked a cheap cash fare a few months in advance. These friends consider themselves casual travelers who, despite my pleas, don’t always take advantage of the wealth of information we have here at TPG to make those trips easier.

On the day of their departure, they received the dreaded trip update message: The flight had been delayed. Then, they received another one. Now, their 7 p.m. departure had become 11 p.m.

That’s when they texted me.

“Should we go to the airport at the normal time in case they move the flight back up, or do you think it’s going just to get pushed even later?” they asked.

Well, friends, let me tell you about what's known as flight tracking.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

How to track your plane

(Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto)

Here’s the thing: Every commercial jet you’ve ever flown on had a flight before it, and every plane in commercial service has a schedule, often with three to five flights per day.

Why is your 7 p.m. flight to San Francisco out of Newark delayed even when the weather seems fine in both cities? Probably because something (like maintenance) delayed the aircraft scheduled for your route at some point earlier in the day.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Knowing where your plane is coming from (including its current location) should help you better understand the status of the delay.

Related: When should you speak up about a flight delay?

FlightAware is one of my go-to apps for tracking individual flights (although Flightradar24 is better for AvGeek purposes, such as exploring flights worldwide), and it offers a nifty feature to see where the plane assigned to that route is currently. If you visit FlightAware.com or download the app and enter your flight number, you can try this yourself on the flight tracking page.

For the uninitiated, the amount of information on this screen may at first be overwhelming. Rest assured, it’s pretty straightforward, with scheduled and actual departure and arrival times, origin and destination airports, and plane type. And there’s a way to see where your plane is coming from, too — just click on “where is my plane now.”

You’ll land on another flight tracking page, but this time with the route your plane is flying before the one you’re scheduled to be on.

Following these steps, I found out my friends’ plane was flying from Los Angeles (LAX) to Newark before their Newark-to-San Francisco hop, and the aircraft was still in Los Angeles — definitely not a good sign. And since Newark isn’t an Alaska Airlines hub, the airline almost definitely wouldn’t have extra planes they could substitute for their flight. I told them they’d likely be delayed again, and they were.

Their flight didn’t end up departing Newark until after 1:30 a.m.

Using airline apps to find your plane

(Photo by Martin Chavez/Shutterstock)

Like FlightAware, some airlines let travelers track inbound flights on their websites and apps, too. Usually, you’ll find a link that states “incoming flight” or, “where is this aircraft coming from?” Some airlines require you to be booked on the flight to receive this information.

Related: Why airports are getting better every year

Screenshot from American Airlines.

Bottom line

Tracking where your plane is coming from has its perks — especially during a busy holiday season. Although not 100% reliable, FlightAware should provide a clear picture of where your plane is, especially when delays start rolling in. Hopefully, this will provide enough information to answer the “when should I go to the airport” question.

Just remember, airlines can occasionally swap in a different plane, especially at a hub airport with additional aircraft available. If my friends had been flying United instead of Alaska from Newark to San Francisco, for example, it’s possible a substitute plane would have replaced their late one. Sometimes, of course, it makes no difference at all.

Tracking your inbound flight is most helpful in gauging the status of your delay when that airline offers a limited number of flights from your departure airport. Being armed with flight tracking tools can help you more successfully request flight changes at the gate, on the phone or Twitter.

And, if nothing else, hopefully, you’ll feel at least more knowledgeable in the face of delays.

Featured image by (Photo by Ryan Patterson)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023