Opinions among controllers will probably differ, but it really doesn’t matter what an individual controller prefers. Flight following is a valuable service to pilots. You will receive traffic alerts and safety advisories, in addition to navagational assistance and several other services. In the event you have an emergency, already being in voice and radar contact and tracked by ATC can save minutes when seconds count.
It is important to note the difference between filing a VFR flight plan and requesting flight following. As previously mentioned in this thread, flight following is provided on a workload permitting basis. It is possible that if you fly into a high density traffic area that the controller could terminate radar services without warning (unless you are within Class B or C airspace). Of course, if this happens you are no worse off than not using flight following to begin with. It is important to note that by requesting flight following you are not ensuring that search and rescue efforts will be made if you crash. If you are receiving flight following and unexpectedly disappear from the controller’s display, he should find out why, and that may begin a search and rescue effort. But the only way to ensure that you will receive search and rescue services is to file and ACTIVATE a VFR flight plan. Keep in mind that there are time parameters built into this chain of events that may delay an actual search for a few hours or so. Consult the Aeronautical Information Manual, Paragraph 6-2-7, and FAA Order 7110.10, Flight Services, Chapter 8.
Getting back to controller preferences, if you want flight following, most, if not all controllers, would prefer that you put your flight information into the system as you would if you were on an IFR flight plan, and I’ll explain how to do that.
Using one of the automated systems like DUAT or DUATS, simply flie an IFR flight plan but make 2 additions. In the requested altitude box, enter the letters VFR followed by a virgule (or forward slant) then your requested VFR altitude in hundreds of feet with no spaces. For example VFR/025. Also, in the remarks section add “Request Flight Following”. Don’t worry about filing an IFR flight plan if you are not instrument rated. By requesting the VFR altitude as described above, ATC will treat you as a VFR flight. You will not be handled as an IFR flight unless you hear the words “CLEARED TO…”. When you first contact ATC, state “request flight following, I’m in the system”. Most control towers will receive your proposed flight information 30 minutes prior to your proposed time of departure, and will have it available for approximately 2 hours after your proposed time of departure. If you also want the added protection of search and rescue, file a duplicate VFR flight plan and don’t forget to activate it.
You can also do this over the telephone with Lockheed Flight Services the same way. I have not been able to do it using flightplan.com as their system will not accept the VFR altitudes for an IFR flight plan.
Flight following is like a free insurance policy. In my opinion, it would be foolish not to use it whenever possible.
I hope this information is helpful.