Finding Old Flights

I recently stumbled upon the website of the United States Department of Transportation, and decided to have a look around. Sounds thrilling, right? But I did discover a cool feature which allows you to find data of old flights, like flight number, aircraft registration, and flight time, but also the most minute details, like taxi time, elapsed time, the time the wheels were extended for landing (important stuff). I figured I’d share it with you to help you find some data about your old flights.

Note: This only works for domestic flights using US-based airlines (As it is the USDT) after 1987. Not all flights ever, but a lot (around 400,000,000). I do not know if there is a similar database/system for flights outside the US.

The only necessary info needed it the date of the flight, and the origin and destination airport. It is helpful to also know the airline flown and the rough time that the flight either arrived or departed, though not necessary.

We’re going to try and find a flight that I took back in 2013. I am curious to discover what plane I flew on. I know that it was from Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DEN) on September 30th, and arrived some time in the late afternoon.

To get started, go to https://transtats.bts.gov/ONTIME/Index.aspx
Once you arrive, you should find a screen that looks something like this:


Scroll down to Detailed Statistics and select either Departures or Arrivals, whichever is easier for you. Usually, it would be easier to select based on which airport is less busy.

For this case, we will use arrivals.

You should find a page that looks like this:
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Select All Statistics. This way, it will give you all data in a nice, clean, spreadsheet that’s easy to understand.

Afterwords, you select your Destination Airport. I know that my flight arrived at Denver International Airport, so thats what I will choose.
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Keep in mind that the list is organized alphabetically by airport name, not IATA code, and there is no search function, so you may have to do a lot of scrolling.

Next, select your Airline. I know that mine was United. These is not needed, but it is very helpful. If you do not have this info, then you can select “All Airlines”. Without this info, you must know more specific details about the time of departure and arrival.

Then, you must input date info. I know that my flight was on September 30th, 2013, so thats what I inputed. If looking for multiple flights, you can input multiple dates, but then it does become a little confusing. I find it best to search one at a time.
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Click submit, and…


You are presented with this spreadsheet. This is showing all 129 flights that arrived in Denver on September 30th, 2013, along with their flight number, tail number, and a bunch of other data. They are arranged by flight number in ascending order, but, if you don’t know that, it wont be much help. The way I found my flight, was it used Ctrl+F (command on Mac) and searched ORD. Remember to search IATA codes, not ICAO, or you wont find anything.

By using Ctrl+F, I found that there are 8 daily flights from ORD to DEN. I also know that my flight arrived in the late afternoon, and using these two things, I was able to single out my flight.

My flight was United 459, arrived 11 minutes late, spent 153 minuted in the air, taxied for 10 minutes, so one and so fourth. What I was really looking for was the tail number, N541UA. After a fast google search, I was able to find out info about my aircraft.

https://img.planespotters.net/photo/356000/original/n541ua-united-airlines-boeing-757-222_PlanespottersNet_356000.jpg

N541UA was a 757-200ER, delivered to United in 1991. She was stored less then a month later in October of that year, and in August of 2014, was given a new life as a freighter for FedEx.

This is a very neat tool, and it helped me to find many other flights just like this that I have took earlier in my life. This was especially helpful, as finding out that I flew on a United 757 helped me to discover that I have flown on every United Boeing Aircraft ever, minus the 727 (maybe, may have to do some more research). Before this, I thought I was missing the 757 too. Apparently not.

Hopefully this helps you find some missing flight info, just like myself. If not, it’s still a fun search engine. Research on!

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Could this be useful to do something like finding realistic DC-10 and MD-11 flight once they’re released to Infinite Flight? It seems like a neat way to do it.

Thanks for the post!

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