It's not an exaggeration to say that there are iPhone apps for almost everything. And in my neverending quest to find apps for airline geeks, I came across a title that allows you not to locate your gate, track your flight, or find your seat, but to actually search for planes in the air.
Plane Finder by Pinkfroot uses a mashup of Google Maps to show current flights in a given area. The accessible interface doesn't resemble a radar scope taken from an air traffic controller's screen; instead, flights appear as plane-shaped icons that trail a path across the landscape. It's a little busy, but you're awarded quite a few search and customization options. You can filter results by airline and altitude, select a single flight from a list, and save your favorite locations as a bookmark. And of course, you can choose the Google Map filter (satellite, normal, or hybrid) that you prefer.
Tapping an individual flight will show you its airline, flight number, altitude, and route in a pop-up window. Alternatively, you also can see the airplane's registration number. Even more information awaits when you click on the arrow including the airspeed, the heading, and the aircraft type. And if you're not familiar with what an Airbus A340 looks like, a graphic will clue you in.
My major complaint with Plane Finder is that its coverage of the United States is pretty slim (Pinkfroot is based in the United Kingdom). Last I checked it showed a few flights in the New York area and just a couple over California, but Pinkfroot said it just added more New York coverage this week. On the other hand, if you want to look at the holding pattern for London's Heathrow airport, you're in luck. A free version gets you limited functionality, but you'll need to pay $4.99 to get the full load of features. Meanwhile, iPad users can buy Plane Finder HD for $7.99.No, Plane Finder isn't hugely practical, but that's not always the point with iPhone apps. Still, it can be informative and even fun.