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Staff Picks: FlightTrack 5 is a first-class flight tracking app

As long as there have been airplane flights, there have been people on the ground wondering when those flights will arrive or depart. Heck, Orville and Wilbur’s friends probably wondered what time they’d land so that everyone could all go out to dinner. Little has changed in the smartphone age, but our tools have gotten better: The $5 FlightTrack 5, by Mobiata, is among the best apps for keeping tabs on plane trips.

FlightTrack’s been around for several years, but its latest redesign appeared last November, bringing a revamped interface in line with iOS 7’s aesthetics; just this week, the app received an update that finally added a native iPad interface.

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FlightTrack lets you store trips of your flights, complete with the route overlaid on satellite imagery.

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FlightTrack pays attention to the details, using color coding to indicate flight's timeliness. And there's even a tiny plane shadow on the map!

Though becoming a universal app is a big move in FlightTrack’s favor, there was plenty to like even prior to that. I love FlightTrack’s interface, which lets you store each flight you’re tracking as a little card, displaying the trip’s route overlaid on a satellite map. Tap on that map and the app gives you even more info, including the flight’s elapsed and remaining time, as well as its speed and altitude—plus, if the flight’s currently in progress, it even animates a little plane icon in real time (the shadow of the plane on the ground far below is a nice touch). Color coding is used to good effect as well, with late flights appearing with orange highlights—as opposed to the app’s usually soothing blue tints—and early flights getting a green tone.

FlightTrack also employs gestures well: Swipe up on the flight info card to get more information about the plane itself, including a seat map when available. If you instead swipe left or right on the card, you’ll get information about the plane’s departure and arrival cities instead, complete with weather forecast, local time, and whether or not the airport is experiencing delays. You can even tap on that card to get access to a terminal map and a board of current flights scheduled for that airport.

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Airport info is just one of several features that you might discover while digging through the app. 

Really, it seems like there’s very little that FlightTrack can’t do when it comes to its stated mission. My favorite feature, available once you’ve added a flight to your list of trips, is the ability for FlightTrack to send you push notifications to let you know about the flight’s status. Not only does it help you not miss your own flights, but I found it useful when I was recently picking up my girlfriend—FlightTrack let me know when the flight had landed, so I could time my airport trip appropriately. (If you don’t feel like getting push notifications, don’t worry: FlightTrack provides a switch to disable it for each flight.)

About the only frustration I have with the otherwise awesome FlightTrack is that certain features are a little buried. For example, when searching for flights, I have the option to search for a random one—great for giving demos or taking screenshots—but removing that flight takes a lot of taps: first, selecting the card, then tapping Edit, then tapping Delete, and finally confirming that I want to delete it. It would be much more in keeping with the rest of the app’s functionality if I could simply swipe that card off the screen to dismiss it. Fortunately, you can also set the trip to automatically be deleted one hour or 24 hours after the flight is concluded, which helps keep things tamer.

Also, I every once in a while tap on things that I feel should be tap targets (the colored indicator on an airport card, for example) which don’t work. Another downside: Though the app does have the ability to automatically sync your trips to one of your calendars, the addition of an iPad interface does seem to cry out for sync between multiple iOS devices.

All in all, FlightTrack is a delightful and exceedingly practical app for keeping an eye on a flight or flights; the addition of an iPad native interface only serves to make a great app even better. If you’re looking for the 787 Dreamliner of flight-tracking apps, you’ve found it.

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