My 5 favorite mobile apps for expert travelers and aviation enthusiasts
Mobile apps have streamlined the travel experience for me.
Whether it's checking in online, changing my seat assignment or selecting my preferred hotel room, these digital tools reduce touchpoints along the journey, getting me from point A to point B faster, easier and with less stress.
Some travel-focused apps accomplish the basics; others are designed for power users, especially budding aviation enthusiasts and those who want to know all the details about their flight and travel experience.
Let's recap some of my favorites.
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FlightRadar24 is a must-download app for anyone who is on the go and wants to learn more about what's going on at airports around them. The app gives you an overview of all the flights arriving and departing from almost any airport in near real time. Once you have an overview of the airport, each plane displays the airline to which it belongs, as well as its registration number, altitude, speed, heading and coordinates.
You can take a look at how many planes are ahead of you for takeoff and which runway configuration is in use at a particular moment. You can even watch as planes descend to land.
The app has a built-in augmented reality view, which works when you tilt your phone to the sky. The app will then overlay the tracking information for the planes that you're seeing.
Alternative: If you're only interested in the essentials, consider using FlightAware instead of FlightRadar24. You can view real-time flight statuses and route maps, as well as other handy details like speed and altitude.
If you're serious about the weather, then AeroWeather is for you. The app provides an easy-to-understand look at detailed weather information, including wind speed, visibility and atmospheric pressure.
It's helpful for determining the weather conditions at your departure and arrival airport – and can often offer a look at whether Mother Nature will delay or possibly cancel your flight.
Alternative: Though AeroWeather offers airport-specific weather information from aerodrome reports, WeatherUnderground (and other weather apps) will likely suffice for those just trying to get a high-level look at what conditions will be like at their destination.
Have you ever waited in a long line for takeoff wondering how much longer it'll take until you're airborne? While you could look at the real-time map on FlightRadar24, you could alternatively listen to the air traffic controllers at your airport as they clear planes for takeoff, thanks to LiveATC.
With live feeds at airports and control centers worldwide, LiveATC lets you listen to what's going on in the cockpit of planes overhead. Sometimes, the commentary on the radio can get quite colorful. Other times, you can hear pilots request (and receive) clearance for a special approach over Manhattan and other areas.
Alternative: If you're flying United, you can tune into Channel 9 on your seatback entertainment to also get a live feed of the air traffic control audio. Alternatively, just listen to the public address system for the latest updates from your flight crew.
Will your flight get delayed? With Flighty, you might know before everyone else on your plane. The app monitors your inbound aircraft, predicts delays and promises to share live push notifications before you hear about delays from the gate agent or pilot. You can even import prior flights to create an automated annual flight log.
The app has received rave reviews from TPGers and other outlets as well, and it even won Apple's Editor's Choice award.
Alternative: If you don't need to be the first to know about a delay, then just listen for announcements in the airport or plane and use airline-branded mobile apps to monitor your flights.
For some expert travelers and aviation enthusiasts, the best trips are those with multiple segments, whether that's because you're trying to requalify for elite status or prefer to spend your time in the sky.
With TripIt, you can easily organize, manage and track all your reservations in an easy-to-read trip timeline. I personally love the app's integration with Apple's iCal, which allows me to see all the reservations on my iPhone's built-in calendar app without any manual imports.
Alternative: Did you know that both the Apple and Google calendar apps can automatically sort through your email inbox and add your reservations to your calendar? It's a nifty feature, but those who make frequent changes would likely prefer TripIt's setup.
Bonus: TPG App
A discussion of mobile travel apps wouldn't be complete without mentioning TPG's newly released mobile app.
The TPG App serves as an invaluable resource for planning the trips you’ve been putting off due to the pandemic with the points and miles you’ve been unable to use since last year. The app tracks all your loyalty balances, shows you how to best spend your points and miles and tells you which credit card to use for different purchases.
It's the perfect tool to help you learn, earn and then burn your points and miles to make travel easier.