Traveling is an entirely different experience now that we have a world of information at our fingertips via our smartphones. With the right apps, we can enhance our travel experience – or just stay a step ahead of travel disasters. One of the most stressful parts of most trips is getting there and back, especially if you are flying. These must have travel apps for flying will help keep your trip going smoothly. And better yet, all but one are free!
Your Airline’s App (free)
For a long time, airline apps had a bad reputation – and for good reason. But the last few years most major airlines have been stepping up as they’ve realized a robust app is an important part of the customer experience. If you decide to use only one of the must have travel apps for flying, make it your airline app!
Today’s airline apps usually offer at least up-to-date flight information that includes delay and gate change notifications, the ability to check in and a mobile boarding pass function. But many have much more than those basics. For instance, Delta (my most frequently used airline because of where I live) has a baggage tracking feature, a parking reminder, airport & seating maps, current in-flight entertainment offerings, Sky Club information, and baggage fees & allowances. Don’t head for the skies without your airline’s app!
My TSA (free)
I reluctantly have to admit that, despite my loathing of all things TSA after some terrible screening experiences, they’ve at least managed to design a decent app. My TSA brings together, in an easy to understand format, all of the basic data that most travelers need to know from the TSA. Find out about the liquid and electronic screening rules, checkpoint wait times, and what to do when you enter a checkpoint. Not sure if you can carry an item on? Use the link to TSA’s blog for its excellent “What can I bring” feature to find the item you are wondering about.
For more complex needs, there are sections about what ID is required to travel (and whether you can travel without it), going through security with special medical needs, and traveling with children. If you can’t find what you need in the app, there’s contacts provided via phone and online for getting in touch with TSA directly.
The My TSA app’s one weakness is that the checkpoint wait times feature is crowdsourced. This means that the accuracy and availability of that information depends at moment on how many other app users are at the airport and reporting times. The more people that use it, the better the data will be, so be sure to report your wait times when traveling if you download this app! (If you find that you need a better app that only provides TSA wait times, I recommend you try out the app MiFlight.)
Gate Guru (free)
Whether you are looking to find a Starbucks for your favorite cup of coffee, or someplace to buy the charger cable you left at home, Gate Guru has you covered! This airport app will give you a list of all amenities in a certain terminal, or you can search to find where in the airport a certain restaurant or service is available.
Using Gate Guru is easy. Need to find the closest ATM? Filter by terminal and click on the services tab. Find ATM on the alphabetical list, with the bank listed in parentheses after each machine’s listing. Underneath is the gate number that is closest to the machine. Looking for someplace to eat? Scroll the list for the whole airport (if you have time) or just the list for your terminal if you need something close by. No more wandering aimlessly wondering what you will find!
This app is a lifesaver even in a frequently traveled airport where concourses can all look the same. When you’re wondering “where was that bagel place I stopped at last time?”, Gate Guru has the answer!
This app is one that can be a real anxiety ease. Airlines often have flights scheduled these days with extremely short turnaround times. It’s not unusual for there to not be a plane at your gate until only a few minutes before boarding is scheduled to begin. How do you know if one is coming?
Why is this important? You would think that if a plane wasn’t arriving on time for a connection, the airline would post a delay for the next flight. But in my experience, airlines tend to drag their feet about posting delays until well after it is obvious a delay is inevitable. So keeping track of incoming aircraft can give you an early heads up that something is wrong, and a head start on finding out what your options are if a delay is going to mess up your travel plans.
Flight Aware is my secret weapon. Some airline apps offer this functionality, but Flight Aware offers more complete data. Type in your flight number, and it will give you an option to click on a button to get information about the incoming flight. This app is also a great one for family and friends to use to track your travel progress so they know if you got where you are going!
FAA Wait ($.99)
Conditions all over the country, not just at your departure point, can disrupt your trip. Late arriving equipment, or disruptions at your destination, can delay or even cancel flights. Luckily, there’s an app for that!
FAA Wait is the simplest of all the must have travel apps for flying. It has just basically one function – but an important one. Its main page displays data pulled from the National Airspace System Status at the FAA. It shows at a glance which U.S. airports are experiencing general delays, ground stops or even airport closures. A ground stop for an airport means that no planes can take off for that destination until the ground stop expires. Of course a closure means that no planes may land at all. These conditions can occur due to weather, security issues, power and FAA computer failures, or any number of things. Knowing about them before the flight delay is posted will give you a leg up on getting a plan together.
Lounge Buddy (free)
I haven’t actually had a chance to use this myself, but it comes highly recommended from multiple sources. I carry this “just in case” of a travel disaster. If you aren’t a frequent flier, airport club lounges can feel like some sort of off limits promised land. But in a pinch – a long delay or missed flight, for instance – a lounge can be a sanity saver.
Lounge Buddy lets users search easily by airport for lounges that you can purchase access into. You can compare amenities and then purchase a pass via the app. What’s the price to find a haven of sanity (or even a shower) during travel chaos? Lounge Buddy knows! I hope that I never need this one, but if I do, it’s good to know that it is there!
Flight View (free)
For years, I used a free version of an app called Flight Update to track flights. It was absolutely the first of my must have travel apps for flying. Sadly the developer recently scrapped the free version. Now, the only version available is the $9.99 Pro version. That is more than I am willing to pay for an app I might use a few times per year. (Although I would certainly recommend it if you travel more frequently.) So, the search was on for a replacement.
Why use a flight tracking app if airlines are getting their app together? (Sorry, bad pun.) Well, not all of them have apps yet that are all that great. Many apps have limited functionality if you are flying codeshares. For a hacker itinerary involving different airlines, each airline’s app won’t know about your other flights at all. In those cases, having a third party app track all of your flights in one place is a real convenience.
While searching for a replacement I found Flight View. It has the ability to enter flights either manually or through several automatic methods. Plus it has several other nice features. You can retrieve airport delay information, and weather information, for your itinerary with just a click. It also has one click access to call your airline if there is a problem with one of your flights. Cancelled flight? Hit the little phone receiver button in the upper corner of your flight’s detail screen. You’ll be connected to your airline’s customer service.
A smartphone is a powerful tool in making air travel go smoothly, but it can’t do the job alone. Load your phone with these must have travel apps for flying before you leave home. You’ll find the skies are a little less turbulent!