WHERE THE WEB
WORKS FOR YOU
By Sheila J. Kittle
September 18, 2003 -- Returning home from a business trip a few months ago, I asked my husband to pick me up curbside at baggage claim at Tampa International Airport. He knew to check my arrival time with the airline before leaving our house, which is only 15 minutes from the airport. So he again called the airline and was told that my flight had left on time. But it really had not.
My husband waited about 45 minutes before I arrived. Blame that on the airlines' interpretation of "on-time" departures. To the carriers, on-time departure simply means the plane has backed from the boarding gate within a set number of minutes of the scheduled departure time.
The plane could sit on the access lanes to the runways for an hour or more and it would still be considered an on-time departure.
However, the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees domestic flights, tracks the actual departure and arrival times based on liftoff and landing and posts this data.
Web sites such as FlightExplorer.com use that public information to provide real-time data to people who need to meet or make connections with arriving flights. This is the Web site I recommend for tracking actual flight times.
With 16 years in the travel industry, I have collected addresses for the Web sites I consider "must haves." They are listed here, but you will not find travel-vendor Web sites because their primary function is to sell and thus they rarely provide unbiased information.
Also not listed here are the sites maintained by most every airline, hotel, car-rental and discount travel agency. They are easy enough for you to find. But some sites listed here offer hyperlinks to guide you to the vendor site of your choice.
My favorites, in no particular order:
Nominated as Yahoo's Pick of the Week, SeatGuru.com takes the guesswork out of your seat assignment. It displays seating maps for the aircraft flown by the six largest domestic carriers: American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways. It goes a step further by identifying seats that do not recline or are undesirable for other reasons, such as being too close to the bathrooms or having an obscured view of the central movie screen. Seatguru also lists each plane's seat pitch: the distance from your seatback to the exact same point on the seat in front or it.
Randy Petersen wrote the book on frequent-flyer programs, literally, and now has several Web sites such as FlyerTalk.com that deliver information elec-tronically. Although FlyerTalk has taken on a commercial edge recently, it is still a great place to chat with other frequent flyers. Peterson also produces sites such as FlyerGuide.com and WebFlyer.com.
If you'd like real-time flight status information, bookmark the FastTrack feature of FlightExplorer.com. As noted above, what the airlines call "pushback" departure times do not automatically mean the airplane left the ground in a suitably short period. But this site provides departure time based on "wheels up," the actual time when the aircraft left the ground. Because the main source of the data is the FAA, this site includes some snazzy graphics of the actual flight.
Travel.state.gov is the "everything you ever needed to know about international travel" Web site. It contains updated advisories for every country in the world, including the State Department's travel warnings. This site is indispensable for the international traveler.
When you know that you are going to have to spend some hours in an airport because of a lengthy layover, it's a plus to know what is available within the airport to help you pass the time. Airports.com contains hyperlinks to major airport Web sites, most of which include a detailed map and the services or amenities. Another useful hyperlink on this site is the FAA's real-time airport-delay information.
If you have a favorite travel Web site you'd like to share, e-mail me with the site and the reason you consider it a must-have. Perhaps there will be enough new sites that I can have a Part II of this column.
This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.
Copyright © 1993-2004 by Sheila J. Kittle. All rights reserved.