In Short.
To use the flight tracker in iMessage, send or receive a message with the flight number and airline name. Tap the flight number link and select 'Preview Flight'. The flight details will appear with arrival/departure times, status, and an interactive map. You can also use the 'Look Up' feature in other apps to track a flight number. It's easy and saves time!

Whether you’re going on a vacation or a work trip, keeping track of your flights is the most important thing to do. Knowing whether your flight is on time or delayed helps keep things that much more organized.

It becomes equally important when it’s a friend or loved one who’s traveling, and perhaps you’re responsible for picking them up from the airport. Traditionally, we tend to rely on flight tracking sites or apps that can be pretty cumbersome to use. Perhaps you’re running out of space on your iPhone, and the app is hogging precious storage. Generally, we accept all these scenarios as necessary evils. But if you’re an iPhone user, you don’t have to!

What is this Flight Tracker?

Messages have a built-in flight tracker that takes away all these frustrations. With the built-in tracker, you can track the flight details in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. It doesn’t require you to download any apps or visit any websites at all. Chances are you don’t even need to do the one thing it needs you to do; you might already have.

The flight tracker uses the iOS tool Data Detectors. It is the technology that’s also behind recognizing phone numbers, date and time, addresses, or courier tracking numbers in messages and turning them into links. It’s the same principle that lets you tap a phone number to get the option to call, date, or time to add it to your calendar, address to open it in Maps or add it to contacts, or use tracking courier numbers.

All you need is the flight number (and the name of the airline, in some cases) to use this in-built flight tracker in the Messages app. And if you’re already sharing (or receiving) flight details with someone through a message, your work has been cut out for you.

The best thing is that it works with everyone. That is, you can track flights in any conversation and not just iMessage conversations. The only difference is that only users with whom you’re communicating over text messages will benefit from this feature.

How to Track a Flight in Messages?

To use the flight tracker, open the conversation that has the flight details, whether you’ve sent the message or received it. If you have yet to share the details for the flight, open the conversation where you want to send the details.

For users who only want to use this to track their flight and don’t want to share these details with anyone else, send the flight details to yourself in iMessage.

The flight details include the flight number and the airline name.

Only sending the flight number will work for a lot of flights. For example, you can send BA8461 or BA 8461 for a British Airways flight. The message doesn’t have to contain only the flight information; you can send it like any normal message.

Once you send the message, the flight detail will appear underlined like a link.

If that doesn’t happen, you need to include the name of the airline with the flight number. For instance, you can send Virgin Atlantic 6905 or Virgin Atlantic VS6905 for a Virgin Atlantic flight. In this case, sending only the flight number VS6905 didn’t work.

Tap the flight number in the message that appears as a link.

You’ll get two options on the screen: ‘Preview Flight’ or ‘Copy Flight Code’. Tap the former.

The flight information will open in an overlay screen in the Messages app itself. The information page has everything, from arrival and departure times to duration and baggage claim. It also shows the status of whether the flight is on-time, delayed, or God-forbid canceled. And there’s even a live interactive that shows where the plane is if it’s already in the air. You can even pan and zoom the map to see more details. Tap ‘Done’ to get back to the conversation.

It doesn’t open a website that takes time to load even; it opens in a split second. But you do need a working internet connection.

You can also tap and long-press the flight information in the message to see a quick preview of the map showing the plane’s status without opening full details.

The flight tracker shows the nearest details of the flight. So, if you’re trying to track a flight that’s still days away, the information you see, like departure and arrival times, might not match your flight details at all. This is perfectly normal as the same flight will have many journeys during that time.

Its more practical usage is to track flights that are taking off within 24 hours to find the correct information.

Using the Flight Tracker through ‘Look Up’

Although the flight-tracker works the fastest in the Messages app with the ‘Preview Flight’ option available at our fingertips, you can also use it in other apps on iPhone.

Note: It also works the same in the Mail app as in Messages.

Let’s say you have the flight number saved in the Notes app. The flight details won’t appear as a link you can tap right away. But highlight the flight information and select ‘Look Up’ from the options that appear.

Then, tap the first option that says ‘Flights’ to load flight-tracking information from iPhone’s built-in flight tracker.

You’ll see the details but the map showing the plane’s status won’t be interactive.

iPhone’s flight tracker saves a lot of time when it comes to tracking your flights. You don’t need to jump through any hoops to use it. The feature is also available in the Messages app on Mac.