Collating and recording personal flight history has become easier and more popular thanks to the sheer amount of data available using flight tracking sites. You can also list and visualise your flight history using various flight logging tools.
In this article we will make a comprehensive overview of compiling your flight history including trying to track down historical flight numbers, flight times, seat number, aircraft type and aircraft registrations.
Most people compiling a detailed historical flight record are likely to be aviation enthusiasts or ‘avgeeks’. We also see others looking for historical flight details because they are considering making a compensation claim for delayed/cancelled flights against an airline (particularly under the European EC261/2004 regulation).
Whatever your motivation, our guide should hopefully prove useful for anyone searching their flying history.
Flight Tracker Sites
Let’s start with the popular flight tracker and radar sites. The best one is Flightradar24 which has a live map radar and also gives data on individual flights. Other flight information sites include FlightAware and FlightStats.
These can be very useful to monitor your flight before departure as they give you various information including flight times, aircraft type and registration (tail number). They can be used on a desktop or as an app on mobile.
One handy use of flightradar24 whilst waiting for your flight at an airport is to track the inbound flight. This can give you an immediate handle on possible delays – before it is announced at the airport. To do this you first find out your aircraft’s registration in advance and then track by that particular aircraft – you will see the inbound flight listed before your flight.
Flight Log Display Sites
The following tools can help you put together and display your flight list:
Some of these can also offer interesting map visualisations and statistical breakdowns. Now if you do not want to use any of these online tools then you can simply list your flights in a spreadsheet or remain analogue and use a notebook!
A note of caution, it is best not to publicly display a list of future booked flights.
Putting Together your Flight History
Over the last year we started the process of putting together our own detailed flight history which spans decades. Whilst it’s easy to find flight details of recent flights it does get harder the further back you go! You may need to do some significant detective work…the process can be quite fun and nostalgic looking back at old flights and trips taken.
You can potentially find various details of your past flights from the following:
- old boarding passes if you have kept any of them (including digital pdf files as well). This can give you flight number, seat number and flight departure time – note the date is often day/month but not the year.
- old emails of flight confirmations or travel plans.
- checking flight history by logging into an airline frequent flyer account or travel agent account.
- past diary/calendar entries.
- old passport stamps can give you flight dates. Some countries (such as Thailand) will write the flight number on the passport stamp.
- old credit card and bank statements can give some details on flight bookings – price paid and approximate dates.
- old photos taken can offer nuggets of information – airport shots (digital) can give you the flight date and approximate time. Photos of your plane can give you the aircraft type and possibly a glimpse of the aircraft registration. Not only your own photos but those of family and friends.
- some people have put in a data privacy request to a government for travel records held. This is certainly possible in Australia, Canada, UK and US.
Once you have gone through the initial process of collecting all your potential flight info, you can take the research a step further in order to fill in extra details – such as flight numbers, flight times and aircraft registration.
Aircraft Registration (Tail Number)
Registration of an aircraft is normally displayed at the rear part of the fuselage. It can also be found in abbreviated form (often the last 2 letters) on the front nose wheel doors, on the wing and/or tail.
Check any old photos you may have of a plane you travelled on to see if you can make out the registration. For old printed photos you may even need to use a magnifying glass to check!
The aircraft registration is a 5 or 6 digit serial number. The prefix denotes the country of registration of the plane. In the above Lufthansa case ‘D’ denotes Germany. Here are some common country codes:
N USA (known as the N number) G UK B China C Canada D Germany F France I Italy EC Spain EI Ireland PH Netherlands OE Austria HB Switzerland VH Australia ZK New Zealand CC Chile A6 United Arab Emirates 9V Singapore
A full country listing is found here
When you have an aircraft registration you can use the air fleet site (or PlaneSpotters site) to denote the exact aircraft type and the age of the airframe. For the Lufthansa aircraft we can see that D-AIPZ is an Airbus A320-211 which first flew in January 1991.
In some countries it is also possible to look up the registration with the official aviation regulator:
Tips and Resources to Find your Aircraft Registration (& Other Flight Info)
The Flight Tracker websites mentioned above will show aircraft registrations for recent flights.
Flightradar24 will show 1 week of flight history for free including registration. For going back further you require a subscription upgrade to Silver (90 days), Gold (365 days) or Business (730 days). Gold costs a reasonable $35 per year whilst a Business account is $500 per year.
FlightStats also shows 1 week of flight data for free. However FlightStats offers a “Historical Flight Status” feature as part of its Professional Subscription. It costs $25 per month and allows 250 flight searches by flight number or route – the data goes back to the year 2006.
This historical function is useful to find flight numbers and flight times though the accuracy of the data is not always certain. You will only find aircraft registration details going back to about 2015 however. It is possible to take a subscription for just 1 month and then cancel.
If you are just after flight numbers and scheduled times for European flights then you can find this info on one of the compensation claim sites such as EUClaim – this has a “free flight check” with data also going back to 2006. Its business model is to put in customer compensation claims for delayed and cancelled flights for which they take a slice if successful.
FlightAware does not show tail numbers unless you upgrade to one of its Enterprise accounts. It also offers full flight history for a specific flight number but this service is relatively expensive, particularly if you are after a single flight. We are not sure how far back FlightAware has registration data.
One other feature of FlightAware is that it is (sometimes) possible to find historical flight data using its URL data archive system. For example this is an example of an Emirates flight from January 2014 from Dubai (OMDB) to Amsterdam (EHAM):
The URL component lists flight number, date, takeoff time and four letter ICAO airport codes. The difficulty of this method is the takeoff time which is in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC or GMT in old money). It may often be listed as 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time as well.
The Emirates flight has a scheduled departure time of 1610 local but was listed as 1210 (plus add a Z to the time in the URL).
We have come up blank for many flights even when knowing the scheduled departure time and date – however it’s worth a shot.
Planefinder is another radar style tracker site and app. It has a historical playback feature which lets you view the flights from anytime in the last 2 weeks on a worldwide map. Until summer 2019, playback was actually available going all the way back to 2011…unfortunately no more! You can change the time and use the search box to find a flight number.
Casper flights is another radar site limited to European airspace. It has a historical playback facility available from 6 July 2012 right up to today. When selecting a flight, the aircraft registration is found under the aircraft photo (shown bottom left in the screenshot).
Although the Casper site still functions, it doesn’t seem to be as actively updated as the others. Its last news post was from 2014, the webpage is not http secure and the map radar uses Adobe Flash.
LHR-LGW – If you have flown regularly from London Heathrow or London Gatwick then the LHR-LGW site is a brilliant resource. It has historical flight movement details going back decades. Go to the “Archive’s Movements” section and you will find Heathrow and Gatwick Archive years – select your year and month and open the zipped file.
File extensions are a mixed bag depending on the year selected and sometimes open in your browser, spreadsheet or notepad
The Heathrow archive is quite comprehensive, the Gatwick one less so – and as you go back in time the coverage gets more sparse.
The site also has an ‘ACARS’ and ‘SBS’ data archive which we will discuss shortly below.
Dutch Plane Spotters has kept an excellent record of Amsterdam Schiphol flight movements over the last decade. The daily flight record is available from 12th November 2009 onwards. You can group the data by airline, aircraft, place and other parameters. The flight coverage is almost comprehensive although we could not find all of our flights from that airport (perhaps due to those being Cityhopper-type flights from remote stands).
Unfortunately we have not been able to find similar historical flight movement sites for any other major airport around the world. If you know of any please let us know and if suitable we will add it to the resource list.
The London Stansted Aviation Society does have a London Stansted (STN) movements database between 2002 and 2007, though coverage is somewhat limited.
ACARS/SBS Monitoring Sites
There are various ways that aircraft can automatically communicate with ground stations using radio and satellite signals. The technical side is way beyond the scope of this article.
What is ACARS? ACARS stands for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. It is an electronic transmission system using VHF radio signals that allows an aircraft to communicate with ground station receivers.
Some sites monitor ACARS and SBS radio transmissions to provide aircraft registration details for a flight number on a particular day. Coverage is reasonably good but not comprehensive.
LHR-LGW also has a good ACARS database starting from January 1998 to April 2011. There is also a separate SBS archive running from July 2006 to the present day.
When looking at an archive list for a particular day remember that contact times are in UTC/GMT. A signal from an overnight flight from say Singapore to London may be picked up and listed early on the landing day (+1) rather than on the departure day.
Also if your flight is not listed than check the full flight rotation. For example, if searching for the Emirates flight EK149 (Dubai to Amsterdam) as mentioned earlier, you should also check the return flight EK150 (Amsterdam to Dubai) – and vice versa – which should normally have the same aircraft registration.
Some archives can look a little complex and may feature only 3 digits/letters of the aircraft registration in a monthly matrix. Here’s one from LHR-LGW from May 2000:
You may need to use the Air Fleets site to decipher the aircraft registration.
Libhomeradar is another site which has a limited range of archive flight data. Results run from around 2012-2017 though seem to be becoming more patchy. That’s a shame since the display is much clearer than the other databases – it’s easy to find the relevant aircraft registration. We have got lucky and found a few missing registrations from here though.
On the database search click “flight search”, enter your flight number and click “search contacts older than 30 days”.
SPOTTERS is a site which lists the last 3-4 months of flight number-aircraft registration data. The site runs on auto-pilot and doesn’t look like it has been updated since the early 2000s. Hopefully the full historical database will one day be made available.
Airline Source Sites – This group of sister sites run from the UK tracks aircraft fleet and flight numbers for the following airlines:
The QANTAS Source: The QANTAS Flight Tracker can track aircraft registrations of Qantas flights. The archive is available for about the previous 2 years. The site has been active since 2009 and previous archives are effectively hidden away on the host site (if you are good with web search you may be able to find some of them).
The BA Source: There is a British Airways tracker which similarly has an archive from the past 2 years. The site has been online since 2010.
The EK Source: If you need to find the registration of an Emirates flight then the Emirates tracker has a full archive back to October 2011.
The Qatar Source: This has a Qatar Airways tracker has a full archive going back to November 2011.
The Lingus Source: This has an Aer Lingus tracker with a full archive back to September 2012.
The VS Source: the Virgin Atlantic tracker has a full flight archive available going back to May 2012.
BTS (the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics) – This official US government site has a detailed database of domestic US flights going back some decades. You can put in your origin airport and airline for any date going back to 1987 – and it will pull up the flight details for that day.
For example, these are the Delta Airlines departures from Seattle on 1 April 1995:
Aircraft registration data seems to be available from 1 January 1995. Note, international flights are not covered by the database.
Aircraft Photo Sites – This is a long-shot but there are some big aircraft photography sites where enthusiasts upload their images. Spotters tend to be around large airports every day so there is always a very small chance that someone may have taken a photo of an aircraft you were flying on. Uploads usually include the aircraft registration.
You can do an advanced search on either Airliners.net or JetPhotos.com putting in the date and airport you flew from. Obviously if you are flying out of an airline’s hub there will be many flights of that airline so distinguishing your aircraft will be more of a challenge.
Airline Timetables – Going back decades it can be difficult to know the flight number and schedule of a particular flight you were on. It is perhaps possible to find the flight number and flight times from an old airline timetable. There is a healthy market for old airline memorabilia out there on ebay and other sites.
This Airline Memorabilia site run on the Blogger platform by a Portuguese enthusiast has a superb collection of airline timetables, leaflets, adverts, safety cards, fleet info and route maps.
Airline Timetable Images site also has an extensive image archive of many older timetables.
Summary: Personal Flight History
In this article we have looked at how to collate your personal flight history. We have discussed flight tracker sites, flight log display tools and various techniques for finding flight numbers, schedules and aircraft registration.
By taking time to investigate the above resources you should able to get a significant amount of info about your own personal flight history. At the end of the day however, you will only be able to go so far with your search – there will always be flights where it will be very difficult to find any details.
Finally, if you know of any other useful resources to share then please contact us.