Alaska Airlines Reroutes And Delays Flight So Passengers Can View Total Solar Eclipse

Getting ready to board a plane is stressful. You check, and double check, to make sure you know where your boarding pass is, rushing through the airport, worried that you’re going to miss your flight, and did you pack everything you’re going to need? This week, the 163 passengers of Alaska Airlines flight 870 were treated to a flight that was less about stress, and more about enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime show.

It all started about a year ago, when Joe Rao, an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, fresh off of viewing the last total eclipse on March 20, 2015, realized 2016’s total solar eclipse would only be visible from Indonesia and the Micronesian Islands. However, as the eclipse was happening at that part of the world during monsoon season, it increased the possibility of a rain out, Alaska Airlines noted on their blog. Rao then noticed that Alaska Airlines flight 870 from Anchorage, Alaska, to Honolulu, Hawaii, would cross paths with the total solar eclipse at its “path of totality” — the point at which the darkest part of the moon’s shadow would pass over the Earth. As Rao and about a dozen other astronomers and “eclipse chasers” made plans to be on that Alaska Airlines flight to catch the show, he realized they had a small problem — the flight departed 25 minutes too early, which would cause the spectators to miss the eclipse.

Another astronomer, Dr. Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, decided to work out other suggested flight paths that would take them into the heart of the eclipse, and Rao presented these suggestions to Alaska Airlines.

Luckily for the astronomers, Alaska Airlines were game. Chase Craig, Alaska Airlines’ director of onboard brand experience, met with other Alaska Airlines officials, presented them with the suggested flight paths, and together, they worked out the best possible flight plan to optimize their passengers’ eclipse viewing. According to USA Today, they also pushed the flight’s departure time back 25 minutes in order to get the plane in the right path of the eclipse to catch its totality, Craig said.

“We recognize our customers’ passions. Certainly we can’t change flight plans for every interest, but this was a special moment, so we thought it was worth it. Now we have a plane full of customers who will be treated to a special occurrence.”

Captain Hal Andersen, who piloted the Alaska Airlines flight 870, also had to coordinate with Oceanic Air Traffic Control to make them aware that there may be some slight deviations from the Alaska Airlines 870’s flight plan, reports HNGN. With such a small window — the sun was only totally blocked by the moon for one minute, 53 seconds — it was important to make sure everything was done correctly, with very little room for error.

Another eclipse chaser, who was on the special Alaska Airlines flight, Dan McGlaun, brought onboard with him 200 pairs of special filtered glasses to hand out to each of the 163 passengers on board.

“You can’t be doing something that’s this exciting and not give everybody onboard the chance to at least participate.”

To make the flight even more special, not only were the passengers likely the only ones to see the solar eclipse from their particular vantage point, according to Craig Small, a semi-retired astronomer from the Hayden Planetarium, they were also the last people in the world to see this year’s solar eclipse.

“We on the Alaska Airlines flight will be the last people in the world to see this eclipse – nobody will see it after us.”

Chase Craig noted that although Alaska Airlines obviously can’t change flight plans for every person, and every interest, the airline was happy to accommodate these astronomers, as it was a special occurrence and was very well worth it, not only for the dozen eclipse chasers, but for the other passengers, as well. It was certainly an Alaska Airlines flight that none of them will ever forget.

[Photo by AP Photo]