||A flight number, when combined with the name of the airline and
the date, identifies a particular flight. This callsign should not be
confused with the tail number of the aircraft, although both can be used
as a call-sign as used in general aviation. A particular aircraft may
fly several different flights in one day, and different aircraft may be
used for the same flight number on successive days.
A number of
conventions have been developed for defining flight numbers, although
these vary widely from airline to airline. Eastbound and northbound
flights are traditionally assigned even numbers, while westbound and
southbound flights have odd numbers.
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A flight number, when combined with the name of the airline and the date, identifies a particular flight. This callsign should not be confused with the tail number of the aircraft, although both can be used as a call-sign as used in general aviation. A particular aircraft may fly several different flights in one day, and different aircraft may be used for the same flight number on successive days.
A number of conventions have been developed for defining flight numbers, although these vary widely from airline to airline. Eastbound and northbound flights are traditionally assigned even numbers, while westbound and southbound flights have odd numbers. Other airlines will use an odd number for an outbound flight and use the next even number for the reverse inbound flight. For destinations served by multiple flights per day, numbers tend to increase during the day. Hence, a flight from point A to point B might be flight 101 and the return flight from B to A would be 102, while the next pair of flights on the same route would usually be assigned codes 103 and 104.
Flight numbers of less than three digits are often assigned to long-haul or otherwise premium flights. Flight number 1 is often used for an airline's "flagship" service. For example, British Airways flight 1 was the early morning supersonic Concorde service from London to New York City; Air New Zealand flight 1 is the daily service from London to Auckland via Los Angeles; and El-Al flight 1 is the daily overnight service from Tel Aviv to New York City. Four-digit numbers in the range 1000-4999 typically represent regional affiliate flights, while numbers larger than 5000 are generally codeshare numbers for flights operated by entirely different airlines or even railways.
Likewise, flight numbers larger than 9000 are usually referred to ferry flights, that carry no passengers and are only to move an aircraft from point A to point B, where it is supposed to start a new commercial flight. Flight numbers starting with 8 are often used for charter flights, but it always depends on the commercial carrier choice.
Flight numbers are often taken out of use after a crash or a serious incident. For example, following the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, the airline changed the flight number for subsequent flights following the same route to 295. Also, American Airlines Flight 77, which regularly flew from Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, to Los Angeles International Airport, was changed to Flight 149 after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Note that, although 'flight number' is the term used colloquially, the official term as defined in the Standard Schedules Information Manual (SSIM) published annually by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Schedules Information Standards Committee (SISC), is flight code. Officially the term 'flight number' refers to the numeric part (up to four digits) of a flight code. For example, in the flight codes BA2490 and BA2491A, "2490" and "2491" are flight numbers. Even within the airline and airport industry it is common to use the colloquial term rather than the official term.
Flight numbers are also sometimes used for spacecraft, though a flight number for an expendable rocket (say, Ariane 5 Flight 501) might more reasonably be called the serial number of the vehicle used, since an expendable rocket can only be launched once. Space Shuttle launches get numbers with the prefix STS, for example, STS-93.
How Do Airlines Create Flight Numbers?
While many flight numbers may appear random, there is definitely a method behind the madness. Individual airlines create their own flight numbers based on internal methodology, but they must coordinate their efforts with other airlines in order to avoid confusion in the flight control towers. United Airlines and American Airlines, for example, cannot both have two incoming planes with similar flight numbers arriving at the same time. Airlines are governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and it often falls on the IATA to approve flight numbers before they can be implemented by an airline.
Many flight numbers are assigned according to the general direction of the flight itself. Planes headed east or north are usually assigned even flight numbers, while planes headed west or south are assigned odd flight numbers. Return flights are often assigned flight numbers which are one number higher than the departure flight, so passengers can easily remember which return flight to take. For example, the fictional WiseGEEK Airlines may have a flight from New York to Las Vegas departing at noon. Since it is traveling west, it may have an odd flight number of 711. The WiseGEEK Airlines flight from Las Vegas back to New York would most likely receive a flight number of 712. Both flight numbers would have to be approved by the IATA, in case there happened to be an existing United Airlines flight 712 also arriving in New York at that time.
Airlines also assign flight numbers according to a set of agreed-upon parameters. One major airline may agree to limit its possible flight numbers to 1-499. Another airline, possibly a smaller carrier working with the major airline, could have flight numbers from 500-749. Another major airline may have numbers from 750-1000, and so on. Through a practice called code sharing, smaller regional airlines working together with major airlines coordinate their flight numbers to avoid confusion and to designate the flight as a joint effort. Some airlines also designate flight numbers according to the destination of the plane or the type of passengers it will carry. Domestic flights, for example may have two digit numbers while international flights may have three digits. This practice varies from airline to airline, but they are usually consistent. Chartered flights may have special flight numbers which instantly allow airline employees to recognize them.
Assigning flight numbers isn't all business, however. Airlines are allowed, within reason, to designate planes with significant or whimsical flight numbers. A flight to San Francisco, for instance, may receive a flight number such as 49 or 1849 as an homage to the famous Gold Rush of 1849. An airline providing service to Philadelphia might select flight numbers such as 1776 or 76, reflecting that city's historical role in the formation of the United States. Some flights to casino towns like Las Vegas or Reno, Nevada could have flight numbers with 7s and 11s for luck. As long as the airline does not violate IATA regulations concerning flight numbers, it can select numbers for reasons of its own. Flight numbers can also be changed if they become controversial, as in the case of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When commercial flying privileges were restored, the airline changed Flight 11 to Flight 25.
Flight Explorer flight tracking is currently capable of displaying flight status information for the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada, as well as parts of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Information on this page refreshes every 5 minutes.
FlightStats collects information from a large number of sources (governments, airlines, airports, reservation systems, and others) and presents an intuitive display of the data we compile. Registered users can explore details collected from the data sources. For more information, see an in-depth explanation below. In summary FlightStats:
Tracks flight status in near real-time
Reports both runway and gate times
Has global coverage
Provides excellent codeshare mapping
Links airport delay information to the affected flight
Stores information historically and calculates on-time performance rating for flights and airlines
Where does FlightStats obtain its flight status information?
Complete, accurate data is the cornerstone of our business and what sets us apart from competitive solutions:
Geographic Coverage - FlightStats provides definitive information for approximately 99.5% of U.S. flights, and better than 86% of flights worldwide.
Completeness - FlightStats queries multiple sources to create a record for each flight enabling us to offer a broader range of information (for example, gate information).
Accuracy - We have invested heavily in the areas of parsing, interpretation and error checking and developed the logic that enables handling of difficult issues such as cancellations, diversions and changing schedules.
Codeshare Support - Our codeshare logic enables us to deliver flight information for both the operating and the marketing carriers, filling what is often a major gap in coverage.
Real-time data sources include:
FAA ASDI Data Feed
European Data Feed
GDS (Sabre, Amadeus, Apollo, Galileo)
Direct Airport / Airline Data Feeds
Batch data sources include:
TSA Security Wait Times
Is the information accurate?
There are many factors that can affect a flight while it's in the air. Weather, air traffic control directives, congestion on the taxi-ways and more. The arrival times we publish are estimates give the best information we can get. We update that information every few minutes. We can't guarantee the accuracy of the information. But our estimates are rarely off by more than a few minutes.
Where does flight positional information come from?
Most flight tracking applications use a single source of data - the US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Aircraft Situation Display to Industry (ASDI) data feed. The ASDI data feed tracks flights primarily within United States controlled airspace and contains information for flights guided by US air traffic control.
Before taking off - pilots file a flight plan with air traffic control that contains information such as:
the expected departure time
estimated arrival time
Once the flight departs, the FAA publishes information about the position, altitude and speed of the flight as well as estimates on arrival times. For security reasons the information published on the ASDI feed is delayed for 5 minutes. FlightStats supplements FAA data with data from other sources including airport and airline data feeds to give you both runway and gate times whenever possible.
To track European flight positions, we use a data feed compiled by AirNav Systems from a network of interconnected positional receivers that gather ADS-B global positioning system (GPS) data transmitted from planes operating in European air space.
What if I don't know the flight number?
That's not a problem. You can get a list of all flights arriving at a given airport by selecting the "By Airport" tab. Or you can see a list of all flights on a given route by selecting "By Route". You can usually determine which flight you should track from the route and timing information.
What if the flight is a codeshare (marketed by one airline and operated by another)?
FlightStats can help you find the right flight to track even if it's a codeshare. A codeshare is essentially a marketing agreement between two airlines. A flight operated by carrier A is marketed under a different flight number by carrier B. For example, Lufthansa 9355 is operated by (UA) United Airlines and is sold by United as UA 938. The only information that comes across the ASDI stream is the information for the operating carrier's flight number (for example UA 938). Some flight tracker tools require the user to know the operating carrier's flight number. FlightStats does the mapping so that the codeshare flight number can be used instead.
Can I see the flight's location on a map?
Yes. All you need to know the airline and the departure or arrival cities to zero in on the precise geographic position and estimated arrival time of a flight. The new flight tracker combines the power of Google™ Maps with FlightStats up-to-the minute flight data to show you the exact location of the flight over a standard, satellite or hybrid map of North America or Europe. And our airport trackers show the current location of all flights in the vicinity of a specified airport. Please note that the location data is delayed by five minutes for the safety and security of the flight and its passengers.
Why don't all flight trackers provide the same information?
To be useful to travellers and family members, flight trackers often have to fill in some of the gaps in the data from government sources, gate times, for example. There are other variables to consider. There is typically, but not always, a message sent to an air traffic control centre on departure. In the cases where that message is not sent, a flight tracker needs to make a best guess about the actual departure time. The same goes for arrival times. The methods that the various flight trackers use to guess vary - causing discrepancies in information provided by different flight tracker tools.
Can I track international flights?
Our coverage of global flights is the best in the industry. We track more commercial passenger flights than anyone in the world. In addition to our complete coverage of North American flights, we cover flights operating in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and just about everywhere else. Our coverage varies from continent to continent. But we are continually seeking data sources to help us fill in the gaps. Our coverage spans the globe and we show you more in-depth information than anyone.
Can I schedule alerts by email or to my mobile phone?
Yes. All you have to do is register with FlightStats and fill in your notification preferences in your profile. Once you've done that, you can receive notices by email or text message to a PC or mobile device. We'll notify you if anything changes and when the flight arrives.
Is the arrival time runway time or gate time? What's the difference?
Flight status tools are available on airlines' websites, at airports and other websites show the flight's published departure and arrival time, as well as the estimated or actual times. Most, but not all, flight status tools show gate times not runway times. Some tools like ours will show you both the gate times and the runway times. On arrivals, the runway time is the time the plane touches down on the runway. The arrival gate time includes the time it takes to taxi to the gate. On departures, the gate time is the time at which the plane pulls back from the gate. The runway time for departures is the time at which it takes off and includes the time it takes for the plane to make its way from the gate through the queue of planes waiting to take off.
Can I see data for all arrivals at my airport?
Yes. Click the "By Airport" tab. Type in the airport code if you know it. If not, type in the city name and select the airport code from the drop-down box. Select the date and the time period for the flights you want to see, and hit "Go". You'll be able to scroll through an entire list of arriving flights. If you see a flight you want to track, click on the flight number for detailed status information. For flights that haven't yet departed or are en route, you can click on the cell phone or email icons to schedule alerts.
Can I track all flights on a particular route?
Yes. Select the "By Route" tab. Type in the airport names or codes for the departure and arrival airports, specify the date you want to use for the search, and select "Go". You'll see a list of all flights on that date for connecting those two airports. If you see a flight you want to track, click on the flight number for detailed status information. For flights that haven't yet departed or are en route, you can click on the cell phone or email icons to schedule alerts.
How can I see the on-time arrival performance for a flight I'm considering for purchase?
When you view the flight status detail screen, under the arrival information, you'll see the flight's on-time performance percentage, its average delay, and its overall FlightStats rating (five stars is best).
Can FlightStats give me gate information for arrivals and departures?
More often than not, we can give you both the departure gate and the arrival gate for a flight. Both data points are open to change due to airport traffic conditions. So you should check back often or schedule an alert to let you know if the gate information has changed.
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