Great iOS apps for making holiday travel easier

People around the country are gearing up to travel home for Thanksgiving, but with the right apps on your iPhone, you can ease the pain of the holiday rush.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
4 min read

Editors' note: This post was updated on November 21, 2014.

Traveling can be a headache, especially during big holidays like Thanksgiving. With so many people traveling the country at around the same time, you're faced with packed airports, unforeseen schedule changes, bad weather, and probably more than a few irritable fellow passengers just trying to get home for the holiday.

To keep the stress level at a minimum, I selected some helpful travel apps for iOS that will keep you on schedule and help you navigate your itinerary.

If you're looking for Android travel apps, check out Sarah Mitroff's roundup.

TripIt gives you a schedule to follow so you don't miss a beat. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

TripIt (Free) lets you set up an account, then forward travel confirmation e-mails to a special e-mail address (plans@tripit.com) to make all your vacation information available on your iPhone. Everything from flight times, to hotels, restaurants you want to try, car rentals, and more can be added to your trip card so you know your exact itinerary on your iPhone.

TripIt is more than just a list of information. It takes your vacation plans and uses flight data, mapping data, and more to give you a schedule of events as you enjoy your holiday with family. As an example, when you land at your destination, you can check the weather, get directions to the car rental location, the time it takes to get there, directions to your hotel, and the layout of your hotel. You can add as much or as little information as you want to get each day mapped out with restaurants, places to see, and activities, and all are on an easy-to-follow schedule. As long as you added all the info in advance, you can access it on your iPhone or any other device, even while offline.

You can also sign up for TripIt Pro for $49 per year to get real-time flight alerts, track your seating info, get alerts gate changes, and even offers alternate flights when your trip doesn't go according to plan.

TripIt is a great choice for those who want to map out each day of their trip, with all the info handy whether you're on or offline. It also will make your holiday trips less stressful with a solid schedule you can follow, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Not only can you track flights, you can view colorful maps of your journey. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Flight+ (Free) brings a lot of flight-tracking functionality not available with other apps in the genre. Flight-tracking apps are great to see if your plane is on time before you leave for the airport. It's also useful if you're waiting for a friend or family member to arrive.

Once you select a flight, you see all of the relevant information including the scheduled and actual departure and arrival times, terminal and gate information, and a map with the flight's approximate position and the weather and current time at the two cities. The maps are high-resolution, colorful, and fully detailed. You can elect to receive push notifications as flight times change, save notes for a flight, and view a short description of the aircraft.

Flight+ also delivers a ton of information that will satisfy both frequent fliers and casual travelers. For most airports globally you can view a short description, current weather, terminal maps, and (in some cases) a photo of the terminal building. Also useful are real-time departure and arrival boards (just like the ones you'd see in the airport) that are continually updated and a world map showing all the domestic and international flights from the airport with nonstop service. The Airlines section is similarly detailed. Besides a short description of the carrier, you can see a map of its worldwide destinations, a flight board of all its flights across the system, and its current Twitter feed.

One complaint is that you can't track a flight without being forced to add it to a saved list. Though such a list is convenient for keeping track of a multileg journey, sometimes you just need to look up a flight's information only once. The other thing to note is that Flight+ is not iOS Universal, so you'll have to purchase the app twice to have it on both your iPhone and iPad.

Let Just Landed keep track of when you should leave for the airport to make the pick up. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Just Landed ($1.99) is not exactly an app for the holiday traveler per se, but instead uses your GPS location and current flight schedules to help you pick the exact time to go pick up your friend or family member from the airport. So rather than the traveler, this app is for the person at the destination.

Just Landed sports a well-designed, minimalist interface with only the tools you need for picking up a person at the airport. The way the app works is, once you have your friend's flight information, you can enter the flight number into the app to get the latest info about their flight on travel day, including whether the flight was delayed or will arrive early. From there, you can simply go about your day until the app notifies you (you'll need to keep notifications on) when it's time to leave for the airport in time to pick your friend up.

An added bonus feature is that Just Landed uses your GPS location and traffic data to show you the best route to the airport and figures out how long it will take you to get there. The app takes these factors into account when determining when to notify you, so you don't have to worry so much about what the roads will be like getting there. When you start your drive, the Maps app takes over, showing you the best route to take to get to the airport quickly.

While this app isn't for the holiday traveler, it will definitely come in handy for those who are picking up people at the airport. If you have a relative coming in for the holidays, check out Just Landed.