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Still need eclipse plans? You can see it from the sky on this Southwest flight

Alex Bownine, 8, turned his eclipse glasses into a cat mask at a total solar eclipse viewing party in 2017 at Sunrise R-IX School in De Soto.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Alex Bownine, 8, turned his eclipse glasses into a cat mask at a total solar eclipse viewing party in 2017 at Sunrise R-IX School in De Soto.

Most people viewing the total solar eclipse this April will flock to a portion of the eclipse path that traverses southern Illinois, Missouri and surrounding states.

But there is an option for St. Louisans to see the eclipse from thousands of feet above the ground on Southwest Airlines Flight 1910 traveling to Houston.

“It gives you such a different experience of the eclipse,” said Southwest Airlines meteorologist Jon Hutchinson. “You can see the shadow move up, approach your plane, go over you and eventually pass by when it ends.”

He added there are still available tickets.

Hutchinson helped the airline determine which flights would cross the eclipse’s path and also planned some of the onboard activities during the event. The airline did something similar for the 2017 eclipse that passed over the U.S.

One advantage of viewing a total eclipse from the air is that it eliminates a key variable in viewing them: the weather.

“At 30,000 feet the weather is no longer going to be a concern for you,” said Robert Pasken, an associate professor of meteorology at St. Louis University.

Being that high up also gives a better vantage point to distinctly see the edge of the eclipse, he said.

“Your horizon is further away, you’re going to be able to see further,” Pasken said. “As a result you’re going to be able to see the eclipse shadow edges.”

There are some trade-offs though, like having to look through the window of a commercial aircraft, he said.

“When you look through the window, you’re looking at all of the scratches that are inside the window and all the scratches on the outside,” Pasken said.

The sun will also be fairly high in the sky that day, said Mike Krawczynski, associate professor of Earth and planetary science at Washington University in St. Louis.

“To get a good viewing through the airplane window they would probably want to tilt the airplane a little bit to move it lower,” he said. “When you’re on the ground you can just stare straight up, that’s not an issue.”

Krawczynski said the flight’s route south could mean a shorter amount of time in totality because the plane would be moving against the direction of the eclipse.

The airline is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to create a flight path that will maximize eclipse viewing, Hutchinson said.

“Obviously that is up to the FAA to approve, but we will do our best to make sure the flight experience is the best for our customers,” Hutchinson said.

There’s also the challenge that only one side of the aircraft could view the eclipse at a time, though Hutchinson said Southwest can maneuver its planes as in 2017, when both sides got to see the eclipse.

Another difference being in an airplane for the eclipse means missing the way nature changes when the moon blocks out the sun’s light, Krawczynski said.

“Even if it’s cloudy it gets dark during the day, you feel the wind change, cicadas might start singing,” he said. “There’s a lot of sensations that people experience being outdoors during an eclipse, which you would not have in an airplane.”

To Hutchinson, being in the sky is worth it to guarantee a view, especially since there’s a slightly greater than 50% chance of cloud cover during the eclipse in southern Missouri that day, he said.

“If you want to guarantee yourself to not have that problem, definitely it’s the way to go,” Hutchinson said.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments. Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.
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