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January 13, 2009

Leavin’ on a jet plane? A few handy links before you go
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:41 PM *

My better half has been in the travel industry for the past few years. One of the neat side effects of this1 is that whenever we need some obscure piece of flight information, he knows some neat and useful website that has it.

I finally reminded him that I know where he sleeps sweetly asked him to list some of them for our greater interest and enlightenment2

FlightStats
This site gives you detailed information on flights, airports and airlines. We use the Flight Status and Flight Tracker functions before going to the airport to pick up visitors; they give real-time information about whether a particular flight is early, delayed or on time. You can also get historic information about which flights tend to be late or early, if you’re planning a trip and worrying about a tight connection3.
Seat Guru
If you know the airline and plane type (which you can get from FlightStats above for known flights!), this site gives you seat by seat information: what has extra legroom, which seats don’t recline fully, even were the power sockets are. It’s particularly useful during electronic checkin when you get the chance to specify seats.
Dopplr
Social networking for the jet set. If you’re part of a community of frequent travelers, you can use this to see who else will be in whatever strange town you’re scheduled to fly to.
Rick Seany’s Fare Compare: US Airline fees
This is a handy repository of the various fees and charges you’ll get added to your ticket for US domestic flights. He does other useful charts, such as baggage allowances on major global airlines.
The Practical Nomad
Martin described Edward Hasbrouck as “the Bruce Schneier of travel”. He writes not just about going places, but also about closely interlinked issues like government surveillance of travelers, RFID in passports, and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data sharing.
SkyScanner Route Map
Full disclosure: these guys are my husband’s employers; they do flight price comparisons. The link above is to their route map, which is a neat little page for telling you what airports you can fly to in one (green dot) or two (orange dot) jumps from the selected airport.

  1. in addition to his ability to give you the three letter code for pretty much any airport in North America and Europe
  2. note that these are probably going to be subject to link rot over time. Indeed, some of Martin’s favorite links are already gone. There used to be a site that gave you an estimate of how far ahead of time you should buy tickets to get the best price, for instance.
  3. Note that the technical term for the time you should allow between the arriving and departing flights is Minimum Connection Time, or MCT. The only feeds we know about are proprietary and paid, so there don’t appear to be any comprehensive sites. But if you search for your airport and those terms you can find it for each individual case.
Comments on Leavin' on a jet plane? A few handy links before you go:
#1 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 05:06 PM:

Ack! My daughter's flying to the States from Germany today. Landing there (probably, hopefully) even as I type. I will not look at that Flight Stats link until after she's arrived at her destination, but I will definitely be taking a closer look at all of those. Thanks, abi!

#2 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 05:12 PM:

Wow. Can I lodge a chronological complaint? That SkyScanner site is *exactly* what I would have needed pretty much two weeks ago when my girlfriend's return flight from Poland got canceled and we scrambled to find her a cheap replacement flight that would get her to Dublin in time for New Year's Eve. We finally found one that arrived at like 9pm on the 31st and cost about double of what the Ryanair flight would have cost (Ryanair did graciously offer her to rebook free of charge, with the earliest available date January 6th. They did not supply a complimentary time machine, unfortunately.)

But seriously. That page? EXTREMELY useful. Have your husband inform the relevant people that a very powerless man will be very displeased if that page goes away.

(Me and my girlfriend, we fly home a lot--that means Germany and Poland--and I have a good friend in Istanbul whom I try to visit about once a year. This page is going to get so much mileage.)

Coincidentally, and I'd fully understand if (and as a matter of fact I expect that) you will say "I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you", how does that page make a profit? I saw a couple of sponsored links, but that can't be all, can it?

#3 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 05:25 PM:

Did you include flightaware ?

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 05:29 PM:

Abi... Where does he sleep?

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 05:33 PM:

Daniel @2:

Martin liked your comment. He said that he doesn't want to lose such an admirer, so I can't tell you how they make money.

It may or may not involve leprechauns.

xeger @3:

That looks neat for North America, but not much use for Europe. This is probably why we didn't know about it.

Serge @4:

See my reply to Daniel at 2; the situations are similar.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Abi @ 5... His sleeping location involves leprechauns? In a pot, on a mattress filled with gold (to tie in to a recent thread)?

#7 ::: Seth ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 06:12 PM:

The SkyScanner page is outdated; I checked MSP->HPN and it claimed there's a nonstop. Orbitz didn't find any. (There used to be.)

#8 ::: Lin ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 06:23 PM:

For major US cities, Farecast is a good resource, giving daily fare history, and a prediction of whether the fare is going up or going down. I've found it to be pretty useful.

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 06:26 PM:

I've used Flight Stats in the past; there's an equivalent page just for US and Canadian flights, FlyteComm. One thing I've noticed about both of them is that they're quick to pick up on changes in flight, caused by winds or detours around weather, but don't get word very quickly of delays on the ground due to congestion at the airport, or mechanical problems.

#10 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 06:38 PM:

I'll recommend the forums at Flyertalk.

It's a site filled with people who do lots of flying and like sharing their experiences = it's a healthy online community and their knowledge goes deep.

The forums include airline-specific ones, general travel issues (Safety and Security, Travel with Disabilities, etc), and regional-to-city level information.

I haven't seen a better place to get help on questions like
"How do I get through security if I cannot take off my shoes?" or
"If I have a 5 hour layover, what can I see in city XYZ. And what's the best way to get their and back?" or
"How easy is it to drive in Romania?" or
"I have a travel credit originally purchased with miles on United: can I return it?"

While they (like anyone) hope that you search the forums before posting, I've noticed they tend to be relaxed with naive/newbie questions.

#11 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 07:36 PM:

Farecast will let you put in a proposed itinerary with dates and tell you whether to expect the airfare prices to go up, down, or hold steady.

Looks like it's been acquired by Microsoft since I used it last and is now at http://farecast.live.com/. That could be good or bad news, depending. (Since the link saying "Farecast acquired by Microsoft - Learn more" at the bottom of every site page is broken, I'm going to guess it's a bad thing.)

#12 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 07:37 PM:

abi @ 5 ...
That looks neat for North America, but not much use for Europe. This is probably why we didn't know about it.

US only, actually, although they do extend beyond in a less reliable way. Still - generally useful within its limits.

#13 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 08:03 PM:

Farecast's problem is that it depends on the airlines providing data, I think.

What we really need is information on what others are offered; for example, a Firefox extension that captures at least what price you eventually pay, or at best all the prices you are quoted for a given route/time/date and the time/date you were quoted them, and a backend that aggregates this info from all the users, so you can view the yield curves.

Could display the curve by airlines and also with options to step forward and back by dates..

#14 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 08:13 PM:

When you get there, you'll need to sleep. I get a lot of mileage out of TripAdvisor for hotel information. There's a fair amount of noise (people who just don't get the whole hotel idea), but if you read carefully, you can find great places to stay.

It's help me find good vacation acommodations for both business and vacation travel, and last year, I traveled WAY TOO MUCH. Enough to get over 25k qualifying miles on United and over 75k on Continental, plus some odds and ends on carriers like Soutwest, Virgin America and Jet Airways where I couldn't do anything with the miles.

FWIW, I post reviews there as RoamingSeattleite.

BTW - Seatguru is one of the most useful sites out there. While the good seats are VERY hard to get, it makes it EASY to avoid the bad seats.

#15 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 08:13 PM:

When you get there, you'll need to sleep. I get a lot of mileage out of TripAdvisor for hotel information. There's a fair amount of noise (people who just don't get the whole hotel idea), but if you read carefully, you can find great places to stay.

It's help me find good vacation acommodations for both business and vacation travel, and last year, I traveled WAY TOO MUCH. Enough to get over 25k qualifying miles on United and over 75k on Continental, plus some odds and ends on carriers like Soutwest, Virgin America and Jet Airways where I couldn't do anything with the miles.

FWIW, I post reviews there as RoamingSeattleite.

BTW - Seatguru is one of the most useful sites out there. While the good seats are VERY hard to get, it makes it EASY to avoid the bad seats.

#16 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2009, 10:17 PM:

I've long been a fan of the ITA Software demo/beta site. (Massive disclaimer: They pay me. Disclaimer to the disclaimer: I liked it before I got the job, and I don't work on that product. Also, I still miss the old Java-based flight display filter setup it used to have.) Best feature: flexible and powerful options (some of which geeks will probably recognize as using analogous operations to regexps) so you can do things like look for flights from any of BOS;PVD;MHT, on only certain airlines, to any of SFO;OAK;SJC.

I'll second the recommendations for FlyerTalk and Seatguru.

#17 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 01:55 AM:

I used to use ITA and they've never paid me. ;) These days I only go to Mpls and back, and it's hard to get a better flight or price than one of Northwest's.

#18 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 06:15 AM:

SkyScanner is great.

Also, in Europe at least, it's well worth signing up to the mailing lists of all the budget airlines that use your local airport, because they often have very good but short-lived sales.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 07:21 AM:

Seth @7:

SkyScanner uses live feeds; it doesn't "do" outdated (not to that extent, anyway; a matter of minutes or hours at most).

When I went and looked at the flights from MSP to HPN, all I saw were indirect flights. Are you sure you saw a direct one?

#20 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 08:57 AM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale #10: "How do I get through security if I cannot take off my shoes?"

As someone who walks with a cane, I've always wondered if they make you take off your shoes while standing up or do you have to sit on the (presumably extremely filthy, travel-stained) floor? If I ever have to fly again, at the very least, I'm going to invest in airport friendly suspenders.

Probably the worst plane seat I've ever had was at the back of a 737; it was painfully noisy, and the flight attendants claimed to not have disposable ear plugs to hand out.

#21 ::: David Cook ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 09:04 AM:

While living in Scotland, I used SkyScanner, Expedia, and DoHop - I liked DoHop's interface quite a lot.
It was easy to change your preferred arrival/departure times, exclude/include preferred airlines/airports, and change your preferred number of stops, all without having to go back and forth and reload pages the way most flight search engines seem to. Since then, they appear to have changed their interface slightly, but it's still very "Web 2.0" and easy to change options.

#22 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 09:58 AM:

I found this site interesting for those who wish to travel light.


http://www.onebag.com/

#23 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 11:58 AM:

TripIt is handy for keeping all your various electronic confirmations and schedules and so on in one place. You can either enter stuff manually or forward them the confirmation emails, and they'll automagically add them to your trip calendar. It's especially handy when you're travelling with or to meet other people, because you can add them to the trip and share your itineraries with each other. My brother and I usually meet up in Las Vegas about once a year, and we use it to coordinate flight times, hotels, and so on.

#24 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 02:10 PM:

Larry Brennan @14: I agree with the utility of TripAdvisor, and also the existence of people who don't quite get the hotel concept...or the particular features of certain locations that are nigh-unavoidable. I recall looking once for a hotel in New Orleans - many of the reviews of "charming" small non-chain hotels in older buildings complained of things like, oh, small showers [in buildings which originally had only one bathroom per floor, most likely], slow elevators [in a three story building where you could take less time to walk up], creaky floors and unfinished brick walls [in a historic 115 year old building] and poor water pressure [see note about showers]. A lot of people can't seem to balance their expectations - if you want totally modern amenities and a sterile environment, there's a shiny Marriot just down the street, you know?

#25 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 05:14 PM:

Speaking of expectations. In Ukraine I enjoyed the most marvelous showers (in a place I don't dare drink the tap water... side effect of Reiter's syndrome... I will be leery of the least risk of a GI problem for the rest of my life, and Ukraine is a trifle iffy, even the cities).

The hot water pipes come out of the wall. Those pipes are what the towels are draped on. One comes out of the shower and the towels are warm.

#26 ::: WereBear ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 05:36 PM:

When my family went to Brazil for my brother's wedding, we booked a little place, avoiding the chains.

We were right on the beach and it had a magnificent mahogany bar. Yes, the tub was the size of a breadbox and there was only one outlet, but it was lovely, and we got good service.

When we caught our shuttle back to the airport, there was a breakdown and we were parked in a Holiday Inn lobby. You couldn't tell you were in Brazil.

For people who don't want to feel like they've left home, I suppose that's a feature.

#27 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 06:52 PM:

Ed Hasbrouck, aside from being a good source on travel info, is a draft resister of note, which is how I met him beck in the day. Good fellow.

#28 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 06:53 PM:
beck in the day.

Stupid typo! Clearly that should have read "back in the dey."

#29 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 07:53 PM:

WereBear #26:
If all of the Holiday Inn's in the world were spaced equally around the equator they would be about 15 miles apart. The good news is that most of them would be underwater.

#30 ::: WereBear ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 08:59 PM:

John @ 29: Good one!

As I work in the tourist industry, it often amazes me how people will come to a different place, and yet want nothing to be different.

#31 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 09:04 PM:

WereBear, #26: My partner and I are traveling convention vendors, and our attitude about the big chains is that you go there when you don't want surprises. OTOH, if we have time to go exploring (or a local guide), we greatly prefer to eat at non-chain or local-chain places. In Denver, we found a terrific Ethiopian restaurant!

#32 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2009, 11:28 PM:

Lee @ 31: What Ethiopian restaurant would that be? As it happens, I'll be in Denver later this month for ALA Midwinter. (Only overnight, I'm afraid, but if it's in the downtown and open Sunday night, I might check it out. Or look for it sometime later when I have more time in Denver.)

#33 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2009, 12:34 AM:

Alex @13: kayak.com has at least something like the "what others have been quoted" database you're asking for, and uses it for various charts and comparisons. Kayak is a meta-search engine, querying airline sites and, apparently sites like orbitz, giving a wider range of ways to search and view the results, and then referring you to the original sites if you want to actually book a flight. I haven't explored all the features but I've been shifting over from orbitz to kayak for a lot of travel searches.

#34 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2009, 01:26 AM:

John, #32: It's not downtown, I'm afraid -- we found it because we'd stayed on the outskirts Tuesday night, and saw it while driving in on Wednesday morning. It was just called "Ethiopian Restaurant"; here's a link that I put in my con report. It doesn't have kitfo on the menu, but it has lots of other good stuff.

#35 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2009, 12:23 PM:

Thanks for the info, abi, but.... Somehow the timing of your information suggests that it is related to flights to Washington, DC. And it's a damn good feeling to think we're going to have a president for a change. I just wish I could look forward to the extravaganza.

I live 1/2 mile north of the White House, and my impulse is to bar the doors and stay inside Monday and Tuesday, and hope the city is there on Wednesday.

It occurs to me I could get out of grinch mode and set up a water station at 16th and Q, if I could get someone to carry the jug back and forth for refills, since I'm not supposed to lift over 10 pounds for the next couple of weeks. At least I would feel useful.

It's way too late to be an official volunteer. Maybe I should leave it to people who thought ahead.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2009, 03:57 PM:

Dan @35:

Somehow the timing of your information suggests that it is related to flights to Washington, DC>

It wasn't! Honest! I'm so far removed from the while shebang that I wasn't thinking about it at all.

I've been at Martin to give me that set of links for over a month; the post is just a product of our own household rhythms. This was when we had time.

Having said that, do what you can and don't worry about the rest.

#37 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2009, 04:13 PM:

Sorry to vent my siege mentality on you, the innocent. I'll take it as a sign that I need to take it easy and calm down.

Thanks for the flying info and wise words.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2009, 04:43 PM:

Dan @37:
Sorry to vent my siege mentality on you, the innocent.

(a) You call that venting? Hmph. That wasn't even a mild outgassing. I lived in Edinburgh fifteen years, where the Festival crams the streets solid for the entire month of August every year. Now that gives rise to venting.

(b) You're kinda entitled at this point (yay on not being dead, BTW, and the good prognosis)

(c) Innocent? Me?

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