How to See How Full a Flight is – Podcast 030

In this episode B and Jack discuss how to see how full a flight is. First the present the main reasons why perhaps you would benefit from acquiring such information. After that, they present the 5 main methods to check how busy is a flight.


1. Summary

1.1. The topic of how to see how full a flight is within the Digital Nomad Life System

The Digital Nomad Life System is a 6-step meta-system created by us at Nomad Tactics that aims to explain how someone can go from living a non-nomadic normal life to living an optimized digital nomad life.

The third step of the system is called “Base Research and Arrangements”. Once the nomad has selected the key variables related to the base (Step 2: Base Pre-Planning), he needs to do some in-depth research and arrangements about his soon-to-be new base. The question concerning how to see how full a flight will only emerge when you are making the flight arrangements. Therefore, it makes sense to put in this step of our system.

To have a general overview of the Digital Nomad Life System you should listen to this episode.

1.2. Reasons to check if a flight is busy

  • You might want to check if the flight has a lot of empty seats, thus you know how much space you can have to yourself. If it is a long flight this makes sense.
  • You might be worried about boarding an overly busy flight because of Covid. Thus you want to look for flights that are not that crowed
  • You might want to know how busy the flight is thus you know how fast you need to book tickets before all tickets finish.

1.3. 5 methods on how to see how full a flight is

A. Call the airline hotline

This is a hit and miss method. Many airlines do not want to disclose the information about how busy a flight is because this is part of their policy (some airlines think that this might change your buying behaviour). But there is no harm in calling the airline hotline and asking how busy the flight is. In my experience acquiring the information, this way will greatly depend on how helpful the person you end up talking to on the phone is.

B. Talk to the airline counter in the airport from where your flight is departing

You might think that this would be the same thing as calling the airline hotline but it is definitely not. The people that work picking up the phone for the hotline are much more strict in terms of following the company policy. On the contrary, by talking to a staff member of the airline in the departure airport you are much more likely to get the information about how busy a certain flight is. People are usually much more helpful in the airport (sometimes they do not even know about the airline policy that might restrict them from saying how busy a flight is)

You can talk to someone from the airline in the airport by either going to the airport yourself or calling the airline’s counter in the airport. Of course, I think going to the airport yourself is always the best option since face-to-face interactions tend to be the most successful approach.

If for some reason you cannot go to the airport and have to call the airline counter in the airport then the easiest way to get their number is by visiting the airport website or calling the airport hotline and ask for the specific airline’s counter phone number. Usually, the phone number of a specific airline’s counter in the airport is very difficult to find elsewhere online (usually the airline website do not provide such numbers)

C. Check the seat map of the flight

One way to check if a flight is busy or not is to check the seat map of the plane to see if there are many seats taken. This is a good method to check how busy a plane is. Yet you should always keep in mind that there is not a perfect correlation between the seats selected and the number of people that bought tickets, since some people do not select sits when they are buying tickets.

There are three instances where this method might not work great.

  1. In some airlines, you will have no access to the seat map (and how busy it is) prior to making the payment for the flight ticket. Thus making it hard for you to use this method (unless you buy a refundable ticket).
  2. Some airlines do not allow you to select seats, so obviously you won’t be able to see how busy the seat map is.
  3. Some airlines require passengers to pay extra in order to select specific seats for their flights (this is usually the case for budget airlines). If that is the case whatever how busy the flight seem to be (based on the seat map) might be an underrepresentation of how busy the flight really is. This is because a great number of people might book the ticket but do not want to spend the extra money to select the seat.

D. Go to a travel agency

Travel agencies sometimes have access to privileged information in terms of how busy a flight is due to cooperation with certain airlines. One thing you can do is to go to a travel agency (if you can still find one of those nowadays) and talk to a travel agent. There you simply ask him to show you how busy the flight that you intend to take is.

E. Check the price of the flight

Prices somewhat correlate with availability. Thus one way in which you can assess if a flight is busy or not is by checking the price of the flight. In order to do that in the appropriate way the first thing you will need to do here is to establish the so-called “baseline price” for that specific flight. The best way to do that is to check the price of that flight in 2 or 3 months time (the assumption here is that the flight this far in the future will not be busy thus allowing you to see the ” baseline price”). With that price in mind, you can check the prices for other dates (ideally flights before). If the prices are substantially higher then the flight is likely to be busy. If the price is the same as the baseline price or even cheaper this might indicate the flight is empty. Again, there is simply a correlation between price and availability and you should not rely solely on this method alone to establish how busy a flight is.

F. Use the website ExpertFlyer

The website ExpertFlyer is somewhat a hidden secret. But, believe me, it is one of the best ways to check if a flight is busy or not. To use the website you will simply need to create an account (which is free). Once you log in you will need to click on the option to “create a seat alert”. There you simply need to fill in the following information: departure airport, arrival airport, date, flight number, and cabin type (e.g. economic, business, etc.). Once you fill in those details you will be able to see the seat map of the flight and most importantly which seats were already taken. Believe me, this is one of the most reliables ways to see if a flight is busy or not.

2. Transcript

3. Resources