Did that flight arrive or depart yet? You called the airline... you checked on-line, perhaps even your cell phone received a flight status message... so why are they all different? Ok, this situation does happen, but it certainly isn't the norm. First, lets talk about the typical reasons that cause flights to depart or arrive late.
- Weather This is probably the most obvious, and most common cause for delayed flights. There are three areas where weather affects flight schedules: at the origin airport, in-flight, and at the destination airport.
At the origin airport, weather can affect the scheduled flight arrival in many ways, such as a passing thunderstorm or snow squal, or the need to de-ice the aircraft. These normally temporary issues have lingering affects on flight arrival & departure times. When aircraft cannot depart on-time, later scheduled flights have to wait due to the backlog, as the spacing interval between takeoffs is fixed and cannot be compressed (imagine cars in traffic that have a required two car lengths between them). The net affect is that all of the flights scheduled to arrive from the airport with the weather problems will arrive late, as will many flights hours after the weather passed.
- Traffic Many factors can cause air traffic, and all impact both flight arrival and departure times. Congestion isn't only a problem when you're driving to the airport. It affects aircraft as well and ultimately scheduled flight arrivals. Weather delays cause disruptions in normal air traffic patterns. Flights normally scheduled to arrive on time might have to 'cirlce' around the airport area as congestion requires air traffic controllers to hold some flights in a prescibed pattern before they are cleared to land.
So if you check on the flight status of a particular flight within 30 minutes of the scheduled arrival time, you may find a discrepancy, as aircraft placed in holding patterns around the airport may be reported as having arrived, even though the flight is still in the air.
- Go-Arounds A go-around occurs when an aircraft is just about to land at anairport and the pilot decides it is not safe to land. So you will see (or feel) the plane suddenly increasing altitude, as if it were taking off again. Of course this affects the arrival time for that flight, as it could take up to 30 mins for the aircraft to return and land again.
- Mechanical Problems The bane of travelers and airlines alike, mechanical problems affect arrival schedules too. If a scheduled flight has a mechanical problem while at the origin airport, the airlines and FAA will update the flight status so travelers know when a particular flight should land at an airport. This is by far the greatest majority of cases - on-ground mechanical problems. However, if the flight experiences a significant mechanical problem while in the air, the flight might be re-routed to another airport. The FAA might not send updates fast enough to inform travelers and service providers (such as this site) of the change, and consequently the flight arrival status could indicate all is well while the flight actually landed in another airport.
Sometimes a flight is intentionally delayed. The reasons could be weather-related; at the predicted arrival time, there may be bad weather forecasted. Or perhaps an incoming flight had many passengers on it who needed to connect with that flight - in some cases where the delay will not be too much, the airline may decide to delay the departure time to wait for connecting passengers. Sometimes crew members scheduled to fly on that flight might be delayed arriving to the airport, and hence the flight cannot leave without them. These issues can all contribute to your flight arriving late.
As many frequent flyers know, there are times when the airport flight status monitors display departure and arrival times that may be different from the data displayed at the gate. Why is this? Well, the airports provide the flight departure & arrival data, which they get from the FAA (who monitors all flights in the US). On the other hand, the gate info is specific to an airline, and does not come from the FAA, but rather it comes from the airline's operations center. Hence, if for any reason (say a mechanical delay) has not been communicated with the FAA, the departure or arrival time displayed on the monitors throughout the airport might show different times for a flight that shown at the gate. Frustrating? You bet. So the lesson here is make sure you double check with the gate, as probably they have the most up-to-date info.
How does iFly know the arrival status?
iFly processes flight arrival data for thousands of US flights every minute. This flight status data comes directly into iFly's servers for display on the airport Flight Arrivals page, as well as all the other airports we cover. Unfortunately, the data from the FAA is not always accurate, hence there are times when the flight arrival time or flight status at the airport will not be indicative of the actual arrival time. We appologize for any inconveneience this may cause.
Why you can't see the flight status for flights crossing the atlantic or pacific...
The FAA tracks flights that are within US airspace. That data then gets passed to iFly's servers, so we can provide flilght arrival and departure info. Flights that originate outside US airspace are therefore not trackable on iFly's Fight Tracker.
- How the airlines, airports, and FAA knows where the flight is
Once a flight departs, its flight progress is tracked by the airline, the FAA, and by the destination airport, which displays the incoming flight status on the airport monitors. Each aircraft is equipped with special avionics equipment which allows air traffic controllers to track the flight in real time, using both radar as well as position updates transmitted by the aircraft. The FAA aggregates this data through its network of air traffic control centers and hence tracks thousands of flights every hour.
- How iFly knows where the flight is
The flight tracking data covers all flights in US & Canadian airspace, as well as most of Western Eurpoe and parts of Asia. This data is aggregated by the FAA, international aviation authorities, and the airlines. iFly receives the flight status data from these sources via our patner FlightStats. This data is then passed onto our visitors when a request is made to track a flight. In some cases, due to FAA security guidelines, data is delayed by up to 10 minutes. So within 10 mins of an aircraft sending its in-flight position to the FAA's air traffic control centers, you are able to track the flight here on iFly.com.
- Accuracy of the reported flight
Since iFly's flight tracking data comes from the FAA and airlines, the accuracy of the data is as good as what the these providers have. However, there are a host of reasons why at times the FAA data or airline data is not accurate, mostly due to departure delays because of weather or mechanical problems, in-flight changes, and traffic. These factors all can contribute to inaccuracies on the tracking data of a flight.
Flight Arrivals at Popular Airports
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