Why These Passengers Are Flying Up To 30 Hours To See Four Minutes Of The Eclipse

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MMillions of eager stargazers are preparing for the total solar eclipse that will be visible from Texas to Maine on April 8. an even better view – from 30,000 feet in the air.

“Usually you are on the ground looking up and hoping there are no clouds,” says Do Trinh, an IT risk consultant in Amsterdam.

Trinh is part of a growing cohort of eclipse buffs who are choosing to board commercial flights along the path of the eclipse, just to get a brief glimpse of the moon being obscured by the sun. His interest in the idea was sparked by an eye-catching photograph of the 2017 eclipse taken from a plane, which inspired him to try to see the phenomenon from the same vantage point.

After scanning airline schedules and checking the angle of the sun, Trinh decided in early January to book a flight from Amsterdam to the US and spend another $500 on a Delta Air Lines flight from San Antonio to Detroit, securing a window seat on the left side. of the plane four months in advance. “I’ll be flying 30 hours for a total of four and a half minutes,” says Trinh with a laugh, “so it’s a big investment.”

Read more: The ‘Devil’s Comet’ will be a companion star in Heaven during the Eclipse. Here’s What to Know

But a few weeks after he booked it, the flight was pushed back by about three hours, falling outside the time of the eclipse. He managed to book himself into a first-class window seat on a new flight from Austin to Detroit, which Delta said is being operated specifically for umbraphiles like Trinh. Trinh booked a second eclipse flight on Southwest Airlines just in case.

Some airlines are offering flights that they hope will have an advanced view of the eclipse, but Delta is marketing its flights specifically to those who want to spend as much time as possible within the path of totality. Delta will fly two routes – the first on an Airbus A220 with extra-long windows, even in the bathroom, and the second on the A321neo. Seats for both flights, which cost over $1,000, sold out quickly, and eclipse flight path searches on Delta channels increased more than 1,500% after it was announced, according to a Delta spokesperson.

Jamie Larounis, a travel industry analyst in Washington, DC, had hoped to be on Delta’s first eclipse flight from Austin to Detroit, but by the time he heard about it, the flight was already booked. A few weeks later, however, he received an email from Delta saying that the second eclipse flight had been sent from Dallas to Detroit. He wasted no time. “I was one of the first to book,” he says. “I didn’t hit an eye.”

Read more: This Determines How Long the Total Eclipse Will Last in Your Location

The tickets were listed for well over $1,000, but some travelers like Larounis were able to use Delta’s rewards program to help lower the cost. Larounis says it cost him 100,000 SkyMiles, worth about $1,150, for a window seat on the left side of the plane in first class. “From what I had read, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I wanted to take advantage of it,” he says.

A Delta spokesperson says the airline plans to “perform a series of turns in the entire field to allow views from both sides of the aircraft during these flights,” as long as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows and the air traffic control. on the day of the flight. Delta will provide all passengers with ISO certified viewing glasses, required for eclipse watchers.

But the FAA has warned that air traffic delays on April 8 are likely due to congested airspace, which could pose challenges for eclipse-bound flights and their carefully planned viewing schedules. The stakes are high for eclipse enthusiasts. Interrupting flights could mean missing the crucial moment of totality – when the moon hides the sun for about three to five minutes.

When Larounis booked his flight, he wasn’t that worried about the questions that might arise. But as the adrenaline of booking one of the first seats began to wear off, he began to wonder if there would be any last-minute obstacles to the flight. “Now, after the fact, I’m worried that things won’t go as planned,” he says, “although I have to hope, because Delta marketed this as a special eclipse flight, that they would succeed in obtaining either. a flight to go, or provide some sort of refund if they think it won’t go as planned.”

Read more: How to use your smartphone to take photos of the solar eclipse

A Delta spokesperson says the airline has contingency plans in place in the event that external factors affect the eclipse flights. “We will do everything within our control to make these flights a great experience for our customers,” says the spokesperson. “This may include alternate routing and altitude that our teams coordinate with Delta’s ground operations and air traffic control teams.”

Passengers must expect to get everything right as they watch the full four minutes of their flight. If not, they’ll have to wait more than 20 years for another total solar eclipse to pass across the U.S. “I’ve never seen an eclipse before from the ground or from the air, so I don’t know how the experience will compare. ” said Larounis, “but if I can do it from the air, I should.”

Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com.

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