(Ryan Snook)

Tell lawyers that there are easy ways to improve their air travel, and you might get an argument: Surely such things can’t be possible. Yet while security lines and the stampede for overhead space will remain a fact of flying life, a better experience is indeed possible—at least for those attorneys traveling with a mobile device.

Innovative apps are offering handy capabilities, from obtaining real-time information about flights to getting a leg up on snagging the best seats. And it’s not just third-party developers serving up these tools. In fact, some of the most useful ones are coming from that favorite target of air travel ire—domestic airlines themselves.

What follows is a roundup of the best flight apps for lawyers. These were tested on an iPhone, but all of them are also available for Android devices (albeit not always with the same features or interface). Air travel may never go back to the way it was in the 1960s, but with these apps, the ride can be significantly smoother.

United Airlines

United Airlines 
(free; iOS and Android)

Completely redesigned for iOS 7 (though it will run on iOS 6), United’s app isn’t noteworthy so much for its features (fairly standard fare such as booking, delay notifications and online check-in) as for its design. This is an app that really gets the needs, and constraints, of mobile users, especially time-strapped ones like attorneys racing to make a flight. Essential travel information—reservations, mobile boarding passes, gate info, seating assignments, weather, flight status and more—are presented in an easy-to-access form, using “cards” that appear on the app’s home page (you scroll from one card to the next to quickly see everything pertaining to your flight). So there is no fumbling at the gate—or worse, in front of the TSA agent—to find vital information.

The app features integration with United’s Twitter feed, as well, which can be a lot more useful than it sounds, since social media has become an increasingly effective route for resolving on-the-spot travel glitches (veteran fliers will often message an airline via Twitter before dialing up the customer support line). While some of the app’s features could be improved (the airport maps, for instance, are fairly useless), every airline should learn from United’s example about how to design for mobile users.

Seat Alerts

ExpertFlier.com 
(free; iOS and Android)

One of the quickest ways to tell casual fliers from hardcore road warriors is their familiarity with ExpertFlier. The website—which looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1998—isn’t slick, but boy, is it handy, letting users check the availability of upgrades and award seats across many (but not all) airlines. The mobile version offers just a small part of the site’s functionality, but again, it’s really helpful stuff. You can set alerts for when specific seats open up on a flight, specifying something general, such as an aisle seat, or focusing on a particular seat—handy if you know that 21A has bonus legroom. Alerts can also be set to tell you when blocked or fee-based seats become available.

The app is particularly handy for lawyers heading to meetings that can’t be missed: Grabbing an aisle seat near the door can make all the difference when it comes to making a tight connection. While the app itself is free, you can have only one alert active at a time without paying: $4.99 a month gets you seat alerts for 30 flight segments, or you can simply pay per use, at 99 cents for each alert. On the busiest business routes, where upgrades may be hard to come by, seat alerts can mean the difference between a rough flight and one that veers toward comfortable.

Fly Delta

Delta Air Lines 
(free; iOS and Android)

While Delta’s app largely covers the same ground as other airlines’ (such as letting users check flight status and have estimated arrival and departure times pushed to their devices), it adds some clever touches. The baggage tracking feature, for example, is terrific. Simply type in the code on your baggage tag—or better yet, scan it in via the app—and you’ll get real-time status on your bag’s location, and a jump start on any troubleshooting. That lets you improve the odds that you won’t be wearing the same suit the next five days in court.

Mobile boarding passes—which have been gradually gaining traction among fliers—are handled particularly well by Delta’s app. For one thing, they will note when you qualify for “TSA Pre” expedited screening, so you can simply hold up your phone to get on the quicker security lines. Mobile boarding passes can also be saved to your iOS Passbook, for easy access at the airport. There’s a quirky but handy parking reminder, too. You can take a photo of your spot and store it with the exact coordinates, as calculated by the iPhone’s location services feature. So you’ll never forget where you parked—unless you lose your phone.

FlightTrack 5

Mobiata 
($2.99; iOS and Android)

Just a couple of months ago, when it went under the name FlightTrack Pro, this app probably would have topped our list of favorite travel apps. Its notification system—pushing out alerts keeping fliers abreast of delays and estimated arrival and departure times—was invaluable, often giving a heads-up even before the airlines did. The ability to quickly see alternative flights—handy when you need to get to the client’s site but your flight is going nowhere—was another nice touch. These features, and many others, can still be found on the new version, renamed FlightTrack 5, and for those who haven’t used the earlier iteration, it is $2.99 well spent.

However, lawyers using the older version might want to stick with that one, at least for the time being. Some functionality—such as the ability to sync with TripIt, a popular online travel planner—is missing on the new release. And while the new app is flashier, it also seems less intuitive. It took a bit of trial and error to find some old features (a quick tutorial would have been handy). Finally, Mobiata is asking its existing customers—who already paid for FlightTrack Pro—to pay again for this version. That’s not a big deal, but it’s also not the way most developers implement updates.

FlierTalk Mobile

Internet Brands 
(free; iOS and Android)

FlierTalk is the definitive business traveler resource—an enormous community of highly active (and opinionated) fliers. There’s no question you can have about aviation—anything from minimum connection times in Frankfurt to the best AAdmirals Club in Miami—that can’t be answered here.

FlierTalk’s app doesn’t add anything new to the equation; there are no special features designed specifically for on-the-move use. But its search tool is a quick and convenient way to access the wealth of FlierTalk. And that is enough to make this a required download for any lawyer who flies even semiregularly.

SeatGuru

TripAdvisor 
(free; iOS and Android)

The mobile version of the popular SeatGuru.com website offers the same basic proposition as the full-blown site: annotated seat maps that let you home in on the best spots on the plane—and avoid the worst. As with the website, it’s easy to access the applicable seating chart (you can search by airline and flight number) and to see which seats have a limited incline, too-close proximity to the bathroom, missing windows or other failings.

Neither the site nor the mobile app is perfect, however. Airlines are continually reconfiguring their planes, and Seatguru doesn’t always keep pace. The app is also missing some core content from the site. While it retains the handy color-coding (green for choice seats, red for those to steer clear of), it doesn’t display user comments, which is unfortunate since those are often full of helpful firsthand information.

But even with its faults, Seatguru is definitely worth a download and a quick check before choosing your next seat. I’ve found the best way to use it is to compare the Seatguru map to the one displayed on the airline’s site (most carriers now provide this). If they match, it’s a good bet Seatguru’s map is current, and its advice will be on target.

Contributing editor Alan Cohen writes about law firms and technology. Contact him at alanc31@yahoo.com.