6 Great In-Flight Views and How to See Them

Jan 10, 2018

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I’m a diehard believer in window seats over aisles, and I’m usually willing to go to extremes to get my way. While most of my time up in the air is spent staring at the tops of clouds and thinking about life, the beginning and end of the flight offer a short window (no pun intended) to get views unlike anything you’ll ever see from the ground. Read on for six of the most beautiful sights you can see from the air, what routes you might find them on and where to sit fo get the best experience.

The Washington Monument and National Mall 

As a DC native, I’ll admit that my heart skips a beat every time we descend thrjough the clouds and I catch my first glimpse of the monuments. I choose Reagan National (DCA) when I fly home not just because of the convenience, but also because of views that DC’s other two airports, Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore – Washington (BWI) simply can’t match. When I feel that last series of surprisingly sharp turns that always seems to catch my fellow passengers off guard- first to the left, to avoid restricted Pentagon airspace, then back to the right over plane-spotting haven Gravelly Park, I know I’m really home.

Where to sit:

If you’re landing to the north on runway 1 or taking off to the south on runway 19, your views will be fairly limited. However, departures to the north on runway 1 will have incredible views of the monuments and downtown DC on the right side after takeoff, while southern landings on runway 19 will have those same views on the left side for the last few minutes of flight. Runway assignments will change based on prevailing weather conditions, but since DCA mainly uses just one runway, I check which way planes are taking off when I arrive and try and assign my seat accordingly.

Aerial view of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Aerial view of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Zagros Mountains, Iran

Iran is a country full of breath-taking natural wonders. Western tourists may not have the easiest time getting into the country to see them, but from the air, Iran can be stunning. With a lot of air traffic getting routed over the mountainous west of Iran, the scenery from your window can be stunning over the mountain chain running from the Gulf to the Caucasus — the rugged, otherworldly Zagros mountains.

Where to sit: 

The best routes to see the snow-capped (in winter) mountains are those between North America/Europe and Dubai (DXB), Abu Dhabi (AUH), or Doha (DOH). Eastbound travelers should sit on the left side of the plane, while westbound travelers should snag a window on the right side to maximize viewing opportunities. The image below was taken on a flight from Doha to Frankfurt.

Image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy

St. Helens Crater, Washington State  

Mount St. Helens, one of the few active volcanoes in the continental United States, offers incredible views to a select number of passengers flying in and out of Seattle (SEA). I say select because, at 150 miles south of the airport, many flights will just miss it. That being said, flights landing to the north on either of the airport’s two main runways have the best odds, so keep your eyes glued to the window on final approach.

St Hellens CraterCredit: lsannes / Getty Images
Mount St Helens’ Crater. Photo by lsannes / Getty Images

Mount Fuji, Japan

Located about 100 miles west of Tokyo Haneda airport (HND), the towering Mount Fuji offers incredible views to passengers flying westbound out of Haneda, or landing into the east. Recognizing the excitement this view generates, Japan Airlines created an entire site dedicated to helping passengers plan for the best view. You can enter your departure, destination, and the time of day you’ll be flying, and the website will tell you which side of the plane to sit on and how long into the flight you can expect the show to start. You can even book your tickets directly through this webpage!

AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/GettyImages)
Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP / GettyImages

The Northern Lights

I’ve been lucky enough to see the northern lights several times and I can say with confidence: They are mind-blowing from 30,000 feet even more than from ground level. Out over the Atlantic without the light pollution of a big city, they really shine. While the northern lights are highly seasonal, you can check here for an approximate forecast. Any time I’m flying eastbound to Europe I make sure to sit on the left side of the plane, and on the right side when I’m coming back. (It doesn’t guarantee a sighting, and on the westbound route it’ll be daylight most of the time.)

Aurora Borealis, Northern lights over Reykjavik Iceland.Credit: Friðþjófur M. / Getty Images
Northern lights over Reykjavik, Iceland. Image by Friðþjófur M. / Getty Images

Uluru, Australia

While much of Australia can be easily accessed by road trip, you are better served by a plane to traverse the thousands of miles of outback separating major cities from Uluru. This gorgeous outcrop of sandstone is sacred to the Aboriginal people, and has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Where to sit: Flights landing to the northwest at Ayers Rock Airport (AYQ) on runway 31 will have incredible views from the left side of the plane, while those taking off in the opposite direction on runway 13 will have stunning views from the right side of the planeespecially around sunrise or sunset when Uluru seems to catch every ray of light available.

The massif of Uluru. Image by Torsten Blackwood / AFP / Getty Images
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