How Alaska Airlines changed its schedule for a solar eclipse

Passengers on one Alaska Airlines flight will be able to watch a solar eclipse. Illustration: Alaska Airlines. 

Passengers on one Alaska Airlines flight will be able to watch a solar eclipse. Illustration: Alaska Airlines. 

Alaska Airlines is altering a Tuesday flight from Anchorage to Honolulu so passengers can see a total solar eclipse. 

This was the idea of Joe Rao, associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. About a year ago, according to the airline, he realized Flight 870 would intersect the “path of totality,” on Tuesday night, or "the darkest shadow of the moon as it passes over the Earth."

There was only one problem. Usually, flight 870 left Anchorage about 25 minutes too early for passengers to be able to catch the eclipse. 

"Rather than attempt to move the sun or the moon or the Earth, Rao called Alaska Airlines," Alaska said in a release. "Alaska decided to move the plane."

On Tuesday, Alaska's Flight 870 will depart Anchorage slightly late. Rao will be on board in seat 33F, as well about a dozen other "veteran eclipse chasers." One man will bring 200 pairs of special filtered glasses so everyone can watch the sun during all phases of the eclipse. 

Here's how it will work, according to an Alaska Airlines blog post. 

Flying 530 mph at 37,000 feet, Alaska Flight 870 will intercept the eclipse 695 miles north of Honolulu. The moon shadow itself is oval, 68 miles wide by 500 miles long. It will sweep across the surface of the Earth on a narrow path from Southeast Asia across the Pacific Ocean. For those on the plane, beginning at 5:35 p.m., the sun will be completely blocked by the black disc of the moon for 1 minute 53 seconds.

In the blog post, Alaska Capt. Hal Andersen said he is ready for the challenge. 

 “The key to success here is meeting some very tight time constraints – specific latitudes and longitudes over the ocean,” Andersen said. “With the flight management computer, it’s a pretty easy challenge, but it’s something we need to pay very close attention to. We don’t want to be too far ahead or too far behind schedule.”

Tuesday's flight departs at 2 p.m. Alaska Time and arrives in Honolulu at 7:16 p.m. Hawaii time.



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