Question about VFR flight services

I’m new to vatsim and have been looking at a few youtube videos where they fly VFR. I’ve noticed they sometimes are asked/offered flight services like “Basic service” or “Flight following”. I can’t find much information about what these services mean and which are available to choose from. Are they all used around the world or is it different between countries?

There are differences between countries, so you’d have to be more specific about where are planning to fly VFR to find out what services you can expect.

To answer your question from the United States perspective (yes the services differ between countries).

As a real world instrument rated pilot, I have never gotten anything called “basic service”. However, VFR flight following is a common and useful service that ATC will provide, given they are not busy with other traffic.

Essentially, flight following is like IFR-lite. You don’t have to file a flight plan in advance, though it is recommended, and you can call ATC in the air and request VFR flight following. They’ll ask your destination and type aircraft, and sometimes a couple other questions. You’ll be provided a squawk code. Then, they’ll remain in 2-way radio contact with you and provide traffic separation for you. Sometimes, they will tell you to change your route or altitude, which you are recommended to do, but technically, you could just cancel your flight following if you didn’t want to. But that would be inadvisable because they’re telling you those things to keep you safe and separated from traffic.

Typically, controllers will also coordinate a handoff for you to the next controller as you’re leaving their sector, again, provided they’re not too busy, and the next controller is willing to accept you. Since you’re not IFR traffic, they’re under no obligation to provide any services. If they drop your flight following, you’ll squawk 1200 (VFR) again, and they often provide the next frequency along your route for you to call if you’d like to try and get flight following again.

It’s important to note a couple things here:

  1. Although it operates a lot like being on an IFR flight plan, you are NOT on an IFR flight plan. Even if you are instrument rated, you are required to maintain VFR weather minimums at all times.
  2. Going along with this, controllers will never and cannot clear you for any kind of approach. The most they can do is hand you off to an approach controller or the tower, if your destination requires it. However, your VFR flying will still require you to maintain VFR.
  3. Ultimately, your route selection and flight altitude are up to you, and you’re not required to go along the route ATC provides you. If they ask your route, you can tell them you’re going nearly whatever way you please, and as long as you maintain your VFR altitude for cruise, and don’t bust any airspaces, you’re pretty much on your own.
  4. You are on the absolute BOTTOM of their priorities! Especially if you’re in a congested area, ATC does not care about trying to help you over the stack of aircraft that they’re routing. With that said, as far as IRL flying goes, ATC does often appreciate VFR flights who are going through their airspace calling and asking for flight following. Even if they don’t give it to you, they know you’re around and can keep an eye on you. Sometimes, they will even call back and offer it to you if they get less busy.

Hope that helped!


Thanks both for your replies.

I was hoping there be a more general guide or something where I could look up the details as I tend to fly in different places. Mostly around EU/GB but sometimes in US as well.

Do Vatsim controllers follow local regs and procedures or is it more global? For example assuming VFR Flight following is a US only thing in the real world, can I still ask for it when flying VFR in say Spain or would they just think I’m talking crazy? :slight_smile:

VATSIM controllers follow local procedures.

I don’t know if Spain uses VFR flight following. They may not think you’re crazy, but they may either offer you their local equivalent service, or they may ask for clarification if they don’t know what you’re asking for.