While a flight delay isn’t ordinarily welcomed by passengers, Alaska Airlines is hoping its deliberate delay of a flight out of Anchorage later today will actually earn it a few brownie points.
Why? Because the late departure will allow those on board the Honolulu-bound plane to enjoy a special view of Tuesday’s full solar eclipse, the first in a year and the fifth since 2010. The timing is key – depart at the scheduled time 25 minutes earlier and the chance will be missed.
The celestial spectacle won’t be viewable for most people in the U.S., though folks in Hawaii, and further afield in parts of Asia, will have the chance to see a partial or full eclipse, weather permitting.
“Tuesday’s rendezvous over the Pacific Ocean is not luck, but a precisely planned equation,” Alaska Airlines said in a blog post about today’s unique flight. “The calculations began a year ago. The only variable was the plane.”
The airline revealed that the idea to delay the flight’s departure came from Joe Rao, a so-called “eclipse chaser” who also happens to be an associate astronomer at New York City’s Hayden Planetarium.
Last year, Rao realized that Alaska Airlines Flight 870 would cross the “path of totality,” essentially the peak of the eclipse where the moon momentarily obscures the sun.
However, his calculations also showed that the flight’s usual departure time would be a little too early to catch the special event. “Rather than attempt to move the sun or the moon or the Earth, Rao called Alaska Airlines,” the carrier said.
The man who prompted the flight schedule tweak will be in window seat 32F later today, peering out in excited anticipation of those two magical minutes where the sun will disappear from view and the moon’s giant shadow will sweep across the Earth below. About 160 other passengers on the plane are also in for a treat.
Alaska Airlines special flight departs today at 2.10 pm local time instead of the usual 1.45 pm. Flying at 530 mph at 37,000 feet, the aircraft will intercept the eclipse in the late afternoon, 695 miles north of Honolulu. The passengers had better hope an unexpected departure delay for some other reason doesn’t end up ruining the day.