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Check FlightAware before you book your flights for spring!

I want to repeat a warning that Pat in San Diego gave us a few months back: before you book a flight, check to be sure it is currently flying. Her experience was with British Airways, but I imagine other airlines are doing it as well: they list lots of flights for future travel, but some of them have not resumed flying yet, and who knows if they will start by spring, the way things are going?

In Pat’s case they booked a British Airways direct flight from San Diego to Heathrow, changing there for their destination in Switzerland. As the time neared for the flight, she was told it had been canceled, and then they had to scramble (several times) for a replacement. In the process,Pat learned that the flight they had booked had not flown since March 2020 (when US-Europe flights were limited to a very few US airports).

I almost got caught in this myself—-a few days ago I booked a flight to get us back from a March trip to Italy, using my Alaska Airlines miles. The flight is Milan Malpensa (MXP) to Heathrow to SFO, on British Airways. After reading on FlyerTalk about all the recent flight cancellations by BA, it occurred to me to check. Turns out the flight I booked (BA 583) has not flown since September 2020. Other MXP flights have not flown since 2020 or mid-2021, but some flights from Linate are flying daily. So I canceled the flight I booked and plan to re-book with a flight from Linate as soon as the miles are back in my account.

Of course things can change by March, but I can’t count of that. I would prefer to be on a flight that is actually flying now. And if things change and they start canceling those flights as well (due to worsening covid conditions), then we just won’t go.

It is easy to check on the flight history: just Google the flight number, like”BA583”, using the official airline code. One of the top results will be Flight Aware, and they will show the flight history.


Posted by
1385 posts

This can be a double edged sword where the flight you book because flightaware says it is operating could end up costing you more and still subject you to schedule changes. These days every flight I’ve booked internationally has had multiple changes. I use the schedule changes to my advantage and get better routings. Also, I’m booking flights for summer and next thanksgiving and not sure how flightaware will come into play looking that far into the future.

I rather not overthink this and go with the best option and then deal with the schedule changes when they happen

Posted by
5766 posts

Although, even if they are currently flying a route, what is the guarantee that they will be flying that route a month from now? Routes and schedules change frequently, especially now. If an airline is selling a route now, but currently not flying, I am not sure that is any more risky than a route flying at the moment.

I fly from a regional airport, we used to have 4 to 5 flights to a hub (choice of at least a half dozen hubs); during this pandemic some of those options dropped to two flights, and regularly change from 2 to 3, to 4, all depending on demand. I imagine the same is happening on a larger scale, so if a flight is offered...grab it...yeah, it may change, but they then need to work with you. Restricting yourself to routes that have long history may be comforting, but are still a false guarantee.

Posted by
2116 posts

Lola makes a great point! We traveled a couple of months ago and, after a round of cancellations, I moved us to new flights - and I only picked flights that were actually currently flying. We were only about 4 weeks out from travel at that point and so I felt like the travel options would stay stable.

I’ve opted for the same tactic for our spring travel, but with a twist. Our Paris to Seattle return flight was very expensive. The Paris-Salt Lake City-Seattle was less expensive but the Paris to Salt Lake City flight hasn’t flown for a long while. It’s theoretically back on the schedule for spring - and if it flies, we’ll take it. But I won’t be heartbroken if it cancels and I get to move to the Paris to Seattle nonstop.

Posted by
206 posts

Bear in mind that lots of airlines have announced additional service starting in the coming months. For example, BA has announced they are starting direct summer service from PDX (Portland, OR) to LHR starting in June. That flight is currently not running, but is bookable now for dates starting in June (don't know exact date) through something in the fall. United added a number of direct flights out of EWR and ORD to various places, Delta has announced schedule additions as well. At the same time, airlines do drop routes all the time as well.

Just because a flight is currently flying (or not) does mean it won't get dropped (or added) in the future.

Posted by
158 posts

Great update Lola!!! If a major carrier is CURRENTLY (and has been) flying to and from a Major International Airport the odds are about as high as they get with anything tied to an airline as to Flying in the Future. Airlines are dropping the small local airports. BA is not about to drop London to LAX if they have been and are continuing to fly it. Booking a flight on a route not flown for 1-2 years is much riskier - not even a close call!!

Posted by
12911 posts

I think some of you misunderstand my post. I completely understand that the schedules can, and likely will, change, especially on the short-haul flights. But if a flight on the future schedule has not actually flown for over a year, what chance is there that it will be returned to service by March, when they already have other flights from Milan to Heathrow that have been operating daily? I don’t know, but I don’t want to count on it. I would rather be booked on one that is currently running.

BA seems to have decided to run their flights from Linate and not Malpensa, for the time being. There must be some operational advantage to that, and why would it change in the next 2-3 months? My goal is to get to Heathrow in time for the London to SFO flight. The 2 San Francisco flights are both operating daily, and have been for as long as I can tell from the flight history. I am not concerned with that flight; we just need to get to Heathrow from Milan in good time for it. Had I stuck with the flights I booked, and the MXP to LHR flight was canceled like it has been every day since September 2020, there was no other flight that would get us to Heathrow in time for the departure of our flight to San Francisco. Then there could have been a cascade of problems—-finding a place to stay overnight “in transit”; expiration of the pre-flight covid test for the US-bound flight so we would need to take another test with quick turnaround. . . . Maybe by March none of this will be necessary, but I am not counting on that.

I wouldn’t call it “overthinking”, just being aware and informed. We have flown to Europe nearly every year for the past 20, mostly on BA in business class, so I am pretty familiar with the drill. But everything is so different right now—-so many restrictions, so many flights being canceled. . . . It just seems prudent to pay attention to details right now, and try to minimize the potential glitches.

Posted by
10906 posts

Just because a flight hasn't traveled during the pandemic doesn't mean it won't fly in the future. You have to remember that airlines curtailed many of their flights starting in March of 2020 due to the virus.

Flirghts are restarting slowly and airlines plan months in advance. They have to take many things into account: demand for the flight, availability of aircraft, availability of crew, etc.

Flights also change numbers.

There are many reasons why a flight or route is cancelled. It has very little to do if the route hasn't been flown for awhile. When an airline announces a flight, it's not done lightly.. But that also doesn't mean problems can't occur.

American Airlines recently announced the cancellation of routes due to the lack of aircraft. They had planned to offer a few new international routes using new aircraft. But the delivery of the aircraft is delayed due to supply chain problems so the flights can't go.

I fly a great deal and I never check to see it a flight has been flown continually.

Posted by
385 posts

Working with a good travel agent will save you the hassle of constantly checking and guessing or trying to predict the future. Let them do the work.

Posted by
180 posts

I feel like this is where it has come in handy that I usually only book flights 4ish weeks in advanced. I’m always a procrastinator and last minute planner and it seems it has been to my advantage this year as it’s less likely the flights I’m seeing will be the canceled ones. But I wasn’t aware of this website so thanks for the info

Posted by
1642 posts

I actually did check on a flight I was interested in for next May. It wasn’t listed as currently flying. A few days later it no longer came up on goggle flights.

Posted by
807 posts

I’m totally confused. How would you even book a flight that an airline is not actually flying? Would this be through a third party? One of those CheapFlights kind of places?

Posted by
1877 posts

So are you saying that if I’ve got a flight in mind and it’s not flying now I should not book that flight because that’s a risk?

Schedules today are written on the sand and change with the tides. So just because flight aware says your flight has gone every week for the last two months doesn’t mean that in three months when you want to get on it l, it’s going to be there.

Flight aware history is not a reliable indicator of future performance either way. Once you book that flight you watch it like a hawk. I check my Flights at least once a week

And as for working with a good travel agent. Yeah good luck on that. I will never ever again trust any vacation to a travel agent. The two times I’ve tried it they have really made things into a disaster

Posted by
12911 posts

I am not saying “don’t book it”; just be aware if the flight is not currently running, and consider the possible ramifications. I know FlightAware is not a “predictor”. But it does show the past history. And if that history reflects that a flight which has traditionally been on an airline’s schedule, and is still listed on the schedule, has not actually flown for a year or so, that is something to take into account in choosing your flights for the near future (this spring). The flight likely has not resumed for covid-related reasons, and things are so uncertain right now, there is no way to know when it will resume.

My point is that airlines (at least British Airlines in my experience, and Pat’s) are offering lots of flights for sale, hoping they will book up, and then canceling many of them a week or a month before the date. With BA, this applies mostly to short-haul flights (I.e., from Heathrow to elsewhere in Europe), although in Pat’s case it applied to a San Diego to Heathrow flight. Had she known that flight had not resumed yet, she would have saved herself a lot of trouble by booking from LAX instead, as those flights mostly continued through the covid restrictions.

I my case, looking at flights from Milan to SFO, I found that the flight I was originally considering from MXP, as well as most other flights from MXP to Heathrow, were still not flying. But some of the flights from Linate are flying daily, so I deem one of those a better choice.

Looking back at the schedule for mid-March, I see that BA has, since I first looked at this a week ago, eliminated all but one of the MXP flights from the schedule for that day—-including the one I was originally going to pick. So they have already cancelled most of the mid-March flights from MXP. The 3 Linate flights I noted before as currently running daily, plus the 1 that runs on weekends, are still on the March 16 schedule. So in this instance, the flight history actually was a good predictor of future performance—-at least so far.

I am still waiting to make our flight booking, and will probably do it online with our Alaska miles. But my original plan was to just call up BA and add a flight from Milan to LHR to connect with the flight we already have booked in business class from LHR to SFO. I tried calling BA, but after 6 times, waiting on hold for an hour each time before getting cut off, I gave up. Had I actually gotten through, I would have booked a flight from MXP only to have it canceled days later. And then I would have to go through the whole calling process again.

BA is still listing 7 flights a day from Linate to LHR, and 5 from MXP to LHR for April, but I will bet at least half of those will be canceled. And I “predict” that it is the flights that are currently flying that will be the ones left standing.

Note that this has nothing to do with the current rash of flight cancellations—-those are due to staffing problems (too many pilots and flight attendants, etc. getting sick, or other reasons). This immediate situation is definitely not something that flight history can predict.