Online Aviation-Geek Activities You Can Do From Home

Jun 9, 2020

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If you are missing travel, especially by air, during this coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. That sense of wanderlust and excitement that comes from a visit to the airport as you embark on a new journey is certainly lacking as we rely on armchair travel.

Whether it’s spotting planes from the window of an airport hotel, the sounds of plane engines revving or air traffic control communication, aviation geeks and travel fans get a lot of satisfaction from the process of travel (in addition to the destinations themselves). While you’re home, or at least away from an airport, these av-geek tools can keep aviation fans of all ages busy for quite some time.

Virgin Atlantic Flight School...via social media

Virgin Atlantic launched an online flight school via its IGTV channel for a week. It hosted various guests from the airline including pilots, flight attendants and engineers to share a bit about their role and what it entails. The videos are available via the airline’s Instagram page, and fans are able to interact with the airline by getting answers to their favorite aviation questions. While these went live earlier in April, the airline and its staff are still responding to questions.

As an example, you’ll find a Boeing 787 Dreamliner pilot discussing how she got started in aviation and what the typical day is like for her when she flies. You can learn how pilots try to avoid turbulence and what goes into selecting a specific routing for each flight.

You can also find one of the airline’s inflight supervisors talking about flight attendants' training for medical emergencies and crisis management. You can learn aerodynamics about aircraft, like the Airbus A350-1000, and what goes into designing a cabin interior.

If you are considering a career in aviation or simply like to follow the industry, now is your chance to ask questions and have them answered.

Follow flights online

While the number of flights taking to the skies is significantly lower for the time being, that does not mean you can’t follow along for the ride from the comfort of home. There are numerous flight tracking apps and websites like FlightRadar24 and FlightAware that allow you to follow specific flights or aircraft registration numbers. When you click on the aircraft icon, it tells you more details like the airline, where the aircraft is traveling and its country of registration.

You can also follow the activity of a specific airport. Above is a screenshot from the arrivals and departures board of Charlotte, North Carolina’s airport. This type of information can be helpful all year long because you can track flights of loved ones you are picking up, for example, and follow them along via a live map. It is also a great insight into what flights are still operating from your local airport if you want to see how much of an impact the current slowdown has caused.

FlightAware and FlightRader24 offer both free and premium versions for a fee. The paid option allows you to see more details for a flight or aircraft as well as gather more historical data, but the free version is perfectly suitable for armchair travel enthusiasts.

The FlightRadar24 app has a unique feature that allows you to point your mobile device’s camera to the sky and identify aircraft in your field of view. Some may be so high up that you can’t even see them with the naked eye while others are clearly visible. It is amazing to know the wide range of flights that might be passing over you at any given time.

This is a fun way to plane spot virtually and see which airlines or cargo carriers are operating and where they’re headed.

Listen to live air traffic control allows you to listen to live communications between pilots and an airport’s control tower. It comes in app form, but you can also listen live from a mobile device or computer via the website. This is especially entertaining if you want to learn some of the lingo that pilots and air traffic controllers use.

You can select the airport you want to listen to in the search box; busier airports may be more entertaining, especially if you live close by and can watch the arriving and departing traffic as it passes.

Indulge your av-geek nostalgia

Hard economic times can take their toll on airlines, leading some to shut down. But you can take a look at many airlines’ past and present route maps on a fun website unsurprisingly called Airline Route Maps. You can see where airlines used to fly, and where many airlines fly today if you want to start planning your next trip.

And if you’re missing those premium cabin redemptions that you have been saving your miles and points for over the years, you can still gawk over photos of the inflight service thanks to websites like They aggregate airline meal photos (from all cabins) including airlines around the world. Before this pandemic, you may have never imagined yourself gawking over airplane food — but you may miss traveling enough to do so now.

Plane spotting on YouTube

There are plentiful videos uploaded to YouTube by professional plane spotters and photographers. These are a great way to entertain children as they watch aircraft from around the world taxi across the apron (where planes are parked and boarded) or take off and land on runways. Some especially impressive landings are those on St. Maarten where planes make a final, low approach directly over Maho beach.

Or pick a busy international airport like New York JFK and a video that combines air traffic control audio with take off and landing operations. You (or the kids) can stay entertained for hours.

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