How You Can Watch the Great Solar Eclipse From a Plane

Aug 11, 2017

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Everyone knows by now that there is going to be a total solar eclipse all the way across the United States on August 21. But if you don’t want to fight the road traffic to put yourself into its path, there are some options that will allow you to view the eclipse from cruising altitude.

Alaska Airlines

Although Alaska was the first airline to jump on this by mentioning their eclipse flight in June, they’re only doing one flight, and it’s by invitation only. The airline also held a contest to win two seats aboard the special charter. It will take off from Portland and fly west first, before turning back over US soil, giving passengers perhaps the longest eclipse viewing this year.

2017 solar eclipse map, courtesy Southwest Airlines.
2017 solar eclipse map, courtesy Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest is making eclipse flights available to many more people, with five flights that are available to anyone who wants to go. Southwest’s network & schedule planners hand-chose the following flights, based on the path and peak viewing times of the eclipse (all departure times are local to that airport):

  • WN1375: Seattle (SEA) to St Louis (STL) departing at 09:05AM
  • WN1368: Portland (PDX) to St Louis (STL) departing at 09:05AM
  • WN1969: Denver (DEN) to Atlanta (ATL) departing at 09:50AM
  • WN1577: Denver (DEN) to St Louis (STL) departing at 10:20AM
  • WN301: Denver (DEN) to Nashville (BNA) to at 10:20AM

If you do book one of these flights, there’s no need to bring your special viewing glasses. Southwest has confirmed that they’ll be passed out to people on the five flights mentioned above. Right now, each flight still has plenty of availability, but another important consideration is Southwest’s open seating policy, so you should consider booking the Business Select fare, which puts you among the first 15 passengers to board, eliminating the worry of missing out on a window seat.

In addition to the viewing glasses, Southwest says “cosmic cocktails” will be offered, and the airline will be engaged on social media from gate to gate throughout each of the flights. Not sure what “cosmic cocktails” entails, but I’ll be sure to sample the offerings and report back, as I’ll be on DEN-ATL flight WN1969. Fun fact: Southwest used to call its cocktail offerings “LUV Potions.”

United Airlines

United isn’t playing up the eclipse, but I noticed it has a Denver (DEN) to Atlanta (ATL) flight, UA410, that leaves at 9:54AM that morning, which is only four minutes after the Southwest flight on the same route. As of Wednesday night, that flight had 8 Economy window seats still available. Buyer beware: this plane, the Airbus A319, has much smaller windows than those of the 737s that Southwest uses.

Delta Air Lines

Delta also has a DEN-ATL flight, DL1816, that leaves Denver at 10:20AM. This would probably also afford you a good view of the eclipse, but don’t quote me on that. As of Wednesday evening, there are still 19 seats still open on this flight, two of which are in First Class. Delta uses a MD-90 for this flight, which has windows that are good for viewing outside. The remainder are Preferred or Delta Comfort+.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t any airlines promoting an eclipse flight with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has the largest windows you’ll find on any passenger plane. The electro-chromatic dimmable windows could also allow you to safely view the eclipse without any of the specially-required glasses.

If you can get a flight from one of the smaller airports in the eclipse path, then good luck to you. Flying Magazine reports that the municipal airport in Salem, Oregon (SLE) is expecting its busiest day ever, on August 21st. At this point, all 120 aircraft parking spots are claimed, with 50 more on a waiting list.

The next total solar eclipse over US soil won’t be until April 8, 2024. Weather on August 21st will undoubtedly ruin the plans of some ground-based viewers in parts of the country, as it sometimes does when we have a lunar eclipse. But from a jet flight, well above the clouds, that will not be a problem. Do you want to risk missing out on the unique opportunity to view an eclipse from cruising altitude, or will you be on one of these eclipse flights? Send me a tweet and a photo from your flight to @flyingphotog and I’ll include it in my story from the eclipse flight.

Featured photo by Alan Dyer / Getty Images

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