5 Lesser-Known Air Travel Tips to Use Before Heading to the Airport (2024)

Air travel takes a lot out of me. Although I travel a lot and am armed with some of the best travel apps, I simply don't do well in unpredictable situations. The whole experience is much more tolerable, however, when I can get as much detailed information as possible to shape my expectations. For example, before I book my ticket, can I avoid a connection? Is my flight likely to be delayed? Am I in for any surprises in the seat I selected?

The five tips below help me cope by giving me more information than the average traveler. Hopefully they do the same for you.

1. See the History of On-Time Status

FlightAware helps you track the real-time status of any flight. It also has a history of the same flight with details on the actual takeoff and landing time, as well flight duration. Just look up your flight and scroll down to Past Flights on the resulting page. To see more, go to the bottom and the chart and select View More Flight History.

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(Credit: FlightAware/PCMag)

The history of a flight's details doesn't guarantee that your flight will leave or arrive on time, but seeing a pattern may help set your expectations. For example, if the flight routinely leaves late and arrives late, you might opt for a longer layover before trying to catch a connecting flight. Sometimes, being able to see that a flight has a history of being on time sets your mind at ease.

2. Check the Official Record for Why Flights Are Delayed

The US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) keeps track of the official cause of flight delays, and the results can be eye-opening. You can look at statistics across all airports in the US or drill down to your specific airport and even the carrier you plan to fly at your chosen airport.

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(Credit: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics/PCMag)

While you might think weather plays a huge role in delays, the data tell a different story. Between March 2023 and March 2024, less than 1% of all delays at US airports were caused by weather, whereas 7.4% were caused by aircraft arriving late. That should clue you in that tracking your aircraft's previous flight may be just as good a use of your time as tracking summer storms. So, let's learn how to do that in the next tip.

3. Track Your Plane's Previous Flight

Here's how to find out if the aircraft for your flight is stuck somewhere else. Go to FlightAware, look up your flight, and on the details page, click on Where is my plane now? or Track inbound plane.

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(Credit: FlightAware/PCMag)

On the resulting page, FlightAware tells you the status of the aircraft's previously scheduled flight, so you know if your plane is even at the right airport yet.

4. Look Up Where You Can Fly Direct

I like both FlightConnections and DirectFlights for finding out where you catch a nonstop flight from any airport. For people who live within driving distance of a few different airports, finding out where you can fly direct is a huge help in picking the best route—or destination. For example, my sister and her family live in Buffalo, NY, but often, they're willing to drive to Toronto to catch an international flight because there are many more options out of YYZ without a connection.

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The only real difference I've noticed between FlightDirect and DirectFlights is that DirectFlights is more likely to include routes that are ending soon or routes that have ended, whereas FlightConnections seems to remove them faster. So, if you say to yourself, "I could have sworn there was a direct flight between Toronto and Bucharest!" DirectFlights will tell you that you're not crazy—the route ended in April 2023.

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(Credit: DirectFlights/PCMag)

5. Review the Dirty Details of Your Seat Options

If you select your airplane seats in advance (usually for a fee), even an upgraded seat could come with a hitch, like a bulkhead emergency exit row seat whose legroom is impeded by the plane's emergency slide.

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(Credit: SeatGuru/PCMag)

SeatGuru is pretty good about giving you the dirty details of every seat on every aircraft, which you can look up by flight number. Occasionally, a particular route will use more than one aircraft, so if you look up the seats too far in advance, you might get the wrong option, so just be mindful of that.

Tired of traveling by air? See our list of the best apps for finding train and bus tickets. And read a first-hand account of working remotely on an overnight Amtrak train by PCMag's Kim Key.

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5 Lesser-Known Air Travel Tips to Use Before Heading to the Airport (2024)
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