FLTAdvisor Tells You If Your Flight is Really On Time

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that they wish airlines would just be more honest with them about delays. Sure, airlines promise to update you every 15 minutes these days (yeah, that happens), but often, the agents aren’t given all the information they need to keep you up to date. That’s why when I received a note from the guys behind FLTAdvisor, I immediately saw some promise in the idea.

FLTAdvisor’s goal is to find out if a flight is really going to be on time, despite what the airline says. The idea is great, but can they pull it off? So far, so good, but keep in mind that you will have to pay for it. (More that later.)

For the most part, customer service agents FLTAdvisor Logoand passengers are constrained by whatever the systems are displaying for actual flight time information, but we all know that’s not the whole story. I can often trace a plane back a couple legs to see that it’s going to be late, but airlines generally suck about letting us know about that for fear that aircraft changes may be made and it won’t be accurate.

FLTAdvisor is full of operations guys that used to work for airlines, and they put together this model to help find delays earlier. Yeah, they trace planes back to see if there are delays already, but they do a lot more than that. They use a lot of assumptions about how quickly airplanes can turn around, which runways are operating that day, etc to come up with an accurate prediction. I spoke with John King at the company, and he said that so far accuracy has been very good. I decided to put it to the test.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I picked a handful of flights, and somehow they all ended up being on time. (This even includes a flight from JFK to Philly on a bad weather day. Come on!) But then I found one. United flight 1166 from SFO to LAX on Sunday, Feb 15 (I wrote this post a little while ago). Here’s what I received. My first email came in at 230p (you can choose when emails should be sent).

United 1166 San Francisco-Los Angeles:
FltAdvisor analysis indicates your departure from San Francisco may be at 5:42 PM, 12 mins late.
FltAdvisor analysis indicates your aircraft is flying from San Francisco to Santa Ana and is currently 80 mins late.
Your aircraft is routed through Santa Ana and then back to San Francisco.
SFO Weather/Rain may cause additional delays.
United reports your 5:30 PM departure from San Francisco is on-time.
Additional Information:
Current Departure Gate 73
Estimated Arrival in LAX at 6:55 PM
Current Arrival Gate 70B
Scheduled – 735 type aircraft.
The following information is from the FAA’s ATC Command Center.
These are general airport conditions and are not flight-specific.
Real-Time Airport Delays for SFO:
Due to WEATHER / WIND, there is a Traffic Management Program in effect for traffic arriving San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA (SFO). This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed an average of 2 hours and 58 minutes.
Delays by Destination:
No destination-specific delays are being reported.

Excellent. My plane was already looking to be in bad shape, so at least I could mentally prepare for the delay. There’s also an option in each email to click for alternate flights. It shows those with the actual expected times of departure for those as well, so that’s a helpful tool if you really need to be somewhere. At 430p, an hour before the original departure time of the flight, the half-hourly updates started pouring in.

  • 430p: my flight would now be 71 minutes late because the plane was stuck in Orange County (United.com said 55 minutes late)
  • 500p and 530p: once the plane had left Orange County, it said the flight would be 90 minutes late
  • 6p: revised downward, probably due to lifting traffic restrictions, saying that it would be only 68 minutes late
  • 630p: pushed it up again and said it would be 80 minutes late, 10 minutes from the time of that email

Ultimately, the plane ended up departing 75 minutes late, so certainly within an acceptable range. The most important thing here is that FLTAdvisor gave me notice that a delay was a good possibility long before United did. Were my flight times very important, I could have switched to an earlier flight (that probably also would have been delayed) before others would even know about it.

Yes, it’s always possible that United could have switched planes at SFO and made the flight go on time, and that’s why you can never rely completely on this service. (They’ll send you an email as soon as they see a move like that happening.) But it’s a great early warning system that helps set expectations.

Of course, something like this isn’t going to be free as I mentioned earlier. It’s either $8 a month ($88 a year) or you can buy packets that give you a certain number of flights to track. For example, 10 flights will cost you $15.

If I were a frequent business traveler, I imagine that would be extremely helpful.

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29 Comments on "FLTAdvisor Tells You If Your Flight is Really On Time"

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Oliver
Guest

I wonder how long it will take until United decides to not let others make money off of their information. Like they did with Seatcounter and other services that used to show award seat and upgrade availability until they go a letter from United.

davidthomson_98
Member

Thats right. You can more or less do it all yourself if you have a load of time on your hands…
Great share of this site Cranky. Thanks a ton. I look forward to giving it a real test over the next few weeks with these flights I have to travel on between the 03/26 and 04/14…….
BOG-MIA-JFK
JFK-LAX
LAX-LHR
LHR-JFK-LAX
LAX-JFK-YYZ
YYZ-JFK-LAX
LAX-MIA-BOG

themomcat57
Member

Another snag is that airlines often change equipment when flights are running way behind. You could see your flight is running 80 minutes late and plan accordingly only to find out they changed equipment 2 hours before scheduled departure and are now leaving on time, without you.

jboekhoud
Member

“FLTAdvisor Tells You If You’re Flight is Really On Time”

Great story. Poor grammar.

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
As an old operations hand with five years under my belt I see two big issues with this site: a) As a 3rd party service I would not govern my time according to anything other than the information provided by the airlines. If I show up late based on the “assumptions” made by this service I have no recourse with the airlines whatsoever if I miss my flight. I’m subject to next seat availability and possibly a boatload of change fees on top of that. b) This site will most likely never include one other critical piece of information which,… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

David Thompson – Thru each airline I’ve ever flown or been associated with I can share with you that the operational marching order was the same – “Barring a mechanical, Internationals leave on time.”

LEAVE on time. Arrivals in to LHR, as you are doubtless aware, is another story. Otherwise, airlines and airport authorities are, for once, on the same page regarding international flights, especially the fuel heavy ones like Australia, Hong Kong and West Coast to Europe. They are exempt from ATC 99% of the time. Weather (non-controllable) and mechanicals (controllable) aside, they go.

A
Guest

Or…I could just forget the fee and take early morning flights. For an upcoming trip I booked the earliest flight possible. For a 6am departure the equipment arrives at the night before at 11:50pm. That leaves a good 6 hour cushion for delays. Helps me sleep through the night better and doesn’t cost me a thing.

JimP
Guest

Cranky, Thank you for this review. As a long time frequent flyer, I welcome any improvement in the information about my flight. Nothing I have used before has been perfect and especially the info from the airlines. From my experience, yes maybe the airlines Ops Mgr knows something, but that doesn’t mean the airline is going to tell you until at best the last minute. Also, these days most airlines don’t have extra planes around to substitute.

davidthomson_98
Member

The Travelling Optimist: Thanks. Yes, that does more or less apply.. I’m Executive Platinum with AA so I have a general idea… LOL. Thanks for the heads up though! ;-)

jaybru
Member
CF-Interesting, as always. The key word, is “honesty.” I doubt we’ll get much good info about delays when airlines seem so unwilling to confide honestly with its frequent customers why a particular flight has a particular history of on-time departure, and/or on-time arrival. And, it would be so nice if we could call someone with the airline about the facts of the history of that flight. Some flights have serious histories with aircraft scheduling problems, others with crew scheduling, some because of the weather at that airport at that particular time of the year, and still others with ATC issues… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
JimP – I agree 100% that more timely information is sorely needed from all airlines. Trouble is, you get the information at the last minute because quite often that’s when they finally decide to do something after weighing all options in front of them. It’s rarely with enough time for the customer to take evasive action but there it is. A story – I was in Ops at BWI on summer afternoon. ATC delays to the hub were up to four hours PER departure stretching from 2PM that afternoon until 8PM that evening. I looked at my spread, found a… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Extra Aircraft – JimP is correct that “spares” aren’t lying about all over the place waiting to pick up slack. The “swap” scenario refers more often to simply using live aircraft for alternate routes than originally scheduled. A quick phone call to Maintenance will determine if an Ops Agent can swap an aircraft for another based on whether or not the alternate aircraft is “healthy” or due for a mandatory check that will require it to stay on the routing for which it is already planned. If it’s “good to go” then the initial delay is mitigated. If not, ya… Read more »
The Global Traveller
Guest

Nice site – seems to do similar to what I often do manually, but without the hassle.

I guess it would work better for flights from outstations where a/c & crew substitutions are less likely, not so good for flights from hubs – at least that is the case for my manual processes.

Given I can’t rely on this info in making decisions, I’m not sure I’d pay for it.

jaybru
Member
CF–Certainly should have mentioned FlightStats.com as a source of information. I enjoy looking at that site. But, from the airline, I would like to know more about the “why” of the stats, at least those that might affect me. Yesterday, for example, at UA’s web site. “Flight Status” for SFO-IAD and IAD-ORD flights showed that they were pretty much all on time, typically only a minute or so off the scheduled times. Yet, UA on a number of flights for why there may have been even a minute difference between scheduled and actual times, you will see things like “Schedule… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Why they would think I would need to see a reason for any flight only a minute or so off schedule escapes me. As to reasons shown, I doubt they have much basis in fact. In this litigious society, it’s called full disclosure, even for the most mundane and sensically inane reasons. And yes, they are all based in fact whether or not we choose to believe or accept such information as truthful. In this self-same litigious society no airline in its right mind would knowingly or willingly publicize false information about the current state of its operation. It may… Read more »
Frank
Guest
Nice article and good follow-on discussion. I would suspect that as FLT ADVISOR begins to build itself a nice historical database, it will begin to factor in tribal knowledge, such as “in xx% of the time that flt XXX is delayed by more than XX minutes at airport XXX, then an equipment change occurs.” They could then so advise. It might even be able to make simlar assumptions on crew cancelations. i.e. at Airpot XXX, if flight XXX is delayed more than XXX minutes, the flight is cancelled XX% of the time. Or, the knowledge that at airport XXX, no… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

To me it makes no sense to check with people who have no current info and who are using past data to tell you if a flight will be on time. Check with the airline or your travel agent, they are the ones that have current info and that can protect you if there is a big delay.

Why does there always seem to be websites trying to lure you into believing them instead of the actual airline?

Alex
Guest
I think its a good idea but its only realistically useful whilst your traveling, during layovers at airports etc. If i was flying into say LHR and connecting on to Europe then I could see how it would be useful to turn on my phone after landing and read an email telling me upto the minute status. I could adjust plan accordingly move meetings, inform taxi companies whilst deplaning and passing through flight connections and immigration. So i can see its uses around the airport. However i think the key problem here is essentially a legal one. I’m sure that… Read more »
JimP
Guest
As a consultant I have to fly a lot and considering the cost of the ticket, the $8 a month doesn’t seem bad ($2 a week, $1 a flight in my case). Especially since they don’t bombard you with ads on their web site. Also from my experience, the airlines don’t always tell you that your flight is going to be delayed for business reasons. They don’t want the passengers to start looking at other earlier flights to the same destination that may be delayed. Also as a frequent flyer the airlines will not usually charge fees to change flights… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
I like this given that it isn’t overly granular. I went off previously about Delta letting me know that a flight was now one minute later than it was before. Which in my book doesn’t really matter, a minute is time spent getting off the plane. Now, I wonder which airline will be the first one to ditch their internal reporting and go with FLTAdvisor? Given that providing flight arrival isn’t their core expertise (and it shows) I can see them doing this as it would provide their customers better data, and probably cost them less. Theoretically FLTAdvisor could even… Read more »
jaybru
Member
CF–Hope you’re getting paid by the number of comments to your items. A half hour ago, looked outside my house watching UA1260 from MCO head north to make a south landing at IAD. I see that just about this time UA flights from SFO, DEN, ORD, and Beijing were just about to land. All save the ORD (flight 722) left on-time or early…the ORD flight left 2 minutes late. All arrived IAD early, even the ORD flight, 6 minutes early. Of course, the ORD flight had to have a “Reason,” “Schedule change due to Airport Operations.” [shown both for ORD… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist
Protect the Revenue – JimP is correct in that there is a lot of this going on but in also in some subtle ways rather than simply not disclosing alternate service on a competitor. Airlines are required by Rule 240, in general, to protect their customers on alternate service up to and including other airlines if the customer is delayed more than 2 hours domestically and I believe 4 hours internationally. Someone who gets huffy because he or she was “inconvenienced” by 30-45 minutes does not qualify for that mandatory obligation. Further, the fare rules of most discounted tickets automatically… Read more »
The Traveling Optimist
Guest
The Traveling Optimist

PS to Cranky – GREAT dialogue churner on this one, guy. Keep it up!

John King
Guest
This is a really good discussion. All of us “airline nerds” at fltadvisor have been tuned in and wanted to add a few comments. First for The Traveling Optimist: We pretty much agree with everything you brought up and we do appreciate and understand your thoughts. Most of us at fltadvisor have long backgrounds in airline operations and in airline information technology. For instance I have been the CIO at three airlines – one of the really big ones and two startups. We will never have as good an understanding of what is happening with an airline’s aircraft as the… Read more »
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