Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Airline flight tracking coolness

Recently (last night, actually) I needed to check on the status of an arriving flight so I could pick up Robin and friend Amy. They were returning from England, due to land in Houston, then catch a flight from Houston to Albuquerque. Severe weather in Houston was casting doubt on the flight schedule, so I opened my Flight Tracker widget in Dashboard.

The widget is pretty cool, but, as you can see (below), the mapping of the flight location is so simple that it's hard to tell exactly where the plane is. But who cares? This is close enough. Unless you're in the habit of expecting information overload from your web inquiries. And I am. In the habit. Of wanting more information. Than necessary.


So I searched Google for an alternative "flight tracking widget." I quickly discovered On the FlightStats home page you can check any flight's status by entering an airline name and flight number. The web page shows the flight's location on a Google map (below). The map automatically updates every 20 seconds or so, alternating between map views and positional information. The positional information includes stuff I really want but have absolutely no need for, such as current latitude and longitude, speed, bearing, miles to destination, and miles from origin. It also gives me information that I do actually need, such as flight and airport delay info, departure and arrival times (both scheduled and actual).


Click the "Options" button on the status page to set the Google map to Street View, Satellite View, or Hybrid View.

Click the "Pilot" button to chat with the pilot. Just kidding, but maybe it's in the works for the next version.

Since this is a web page, and not a widget, I can create my own widget using Safari's Web Clip tool in the Safari toolbar. I click on the scissors icon in Safari's toolbar (circled below), hover the cursor over the section of the web page I want to transform into a widget (that section of the page is automatically highlighted, as shown below-right), then click the "Add" button.


Zapola! An instant FlightStatus widget in my Dashboard (below). Five seconds ago I didn't know a single widget programmer, and now I are one.


Great stuff. Just one problem. Even though Robin's flight was on schedule, and I had more information than I needed, I barely made it to the airport on time because I was mesmerized, watching her plane fly from Houston to Albuquerque.