flight path geography--what is that city/river/mountain?
July 15, 2021 11:55 AM   Subscribe

When I travel by airplane I like to sit in a window seat and look out. Is there an app or website that will tell me the flight path for my flight and some sort of time stamp that will tell me what I'm looking at during the flight?

I'd like to know which mountain ranges, cities, rivers, etc I'm seeing. I'm ok with geography (not great) so sometimes I can figure it out, but usually I wish I could click on an imaginary label button next to the window and know what I'm flying over.
posted by museum nerd to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Most flights I've been on lately have this on the screens built in to the seats- which airline are you using?
posted by pinochiette at 11:56 AM on July 15, 2021

Not exactly what you're asking, but: GPS works fine when your phone is in airplane mode. If you get an app with downloadable maps (and you download them), you can see where you are on the map. I've got one such app on my phone called Pocket Earth, but there are a lot of apps that let you download maps from Open Street Maps.
posted by adamrice at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you can find your own flight on Plane Finder, you could track yourself to your heart's content, including altitude, speed, course, and more (and also learn more than you could ever need about the actual plane itself).
posted by soq au vin at 12:03 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's an app called Flyover Country that is pretty much exactly what you're looking for.
posted by theodolite at 12:04 PM on July 15, 2021 [15 favorites]

The dumb low-tech answer if you don't have stored maps or in-flight wifi: Take pictures with your smartphone and look at the GPS data later on, it'll get you within the right tristate region.

Flyover Country looks neat that it looks like maybe it's attempting to figure out your horizon from what you can see from 30,000?
posted by Kyol at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2021

PlaneFinder, FlightRadar24, etc are great when in-flight and you have a working network connection. However they only tell you where you've been, the projected flight path you will see in the app is just a crows-flight path between your position and the destination airport.

The real path your flight will take is filed in a FAA flight plan, which is public information but is not in any readily-searchable database. And it's not always a straight line from point A to point B.

But I realize you just want to see what's out the window at that moment, and the apps (and seatback video) are good for that.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:49 PM on July 15, 2021

I remember when Flyover Country was first released. I had the same questions you do, and it sounded like it was going to answer them. Ron Howard voice, it did not answer my questions. To the extent that I could get the app to work at all (it errored constantly, maybe that's been fixed by now), it didn't seem to actually have much data in its database. Even when flying over things I knew, it told me I was flying over blank space.

What I now use is the FlightAware tracker with Google Maps. FlightAware shows you your path, and you can then use that to find your surrounding on Google. It's not perfect, but I've identified several small towns and a wind farm from it.

All that being said, you can find a lot of that stuff ahead of your flight by just looking at the planned flight path on FlightAware and having some basic geography knowledge. Like, if you're flying from Kansas City to Salt Lake City, the mountains you cross will be the Rockies. But for deep-cut stuff like rivers, look at your path, and then look at a map to see what rivers they might be and make notes. Flying from Boston to Chicago, for example, I know I'll cross the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers pretty early in my flight. I can tell them apart because, having looked at the satellite view beforehand, the Hudson is a lot wider.

One other trick that I've found helpful now that a large number of high schools use Field Turf instead of grass: look for football stadiums. One of the end zones will usually have the school name and the other will usually have the team name (e.g., "North" and "Panthers", respectively). If you have a rough idea of where you were, you can then Google "North Panthers Ohio" and you'll find my alma mater (except you won't because it no longer exists, but you get the idea). Obviously you can't do this at like 37,000 feet, even on a clear day, but it's helpful for getting your bearings around takeoff and landing.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, I'm flying this weekend and plan to try out Flyover Country and using GPS.
posted by museum nerd at 2:24 PM on July 15, 2021

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