Flight following, also known as Basic Radar Service for VFR Aircraft, gives you:
- Safety alerts.
- Traffic advisories.
- Limited radar vectoring when requested by the pilot.
- Sequencing at locations where procedures have been established for this purpose and/or when covered by a LOA.
That’s from the FAA’s JO 7110.65S (Change 1,) the regulation covering air traffic control procedures.
Flight following is completely voluntary. You are never required to use it and an air traffic controller is not required to provide it if he or she is too busy handling IFR aircraft. If you like to tool around the countryside in your airplane with the radio volume turned off, more power to you, as long as you remain clear of controlled airspace.
Here comes the “however.” However, flight following can add a layer of safety to your flight, especially when you are flying through areas with a lot of air traffic. Instead of dodging traffic and terrain using nothing but your Mark 1 eyeball, you can have the (almost) all-seeing eyes of ATC radar covering your back, (and your front, and your sides.) No sense going into battle “alone, unarmed, and unafraid,” when you can have an 800-pound gorilla at your side for absolutely free.
Actually, flight following is not completely free. We can talk about why it’s not, next time.