Have you ever seen the Aurora Borealis during a flight?

Since I am flying Iceland Air next month to Seattle and will be pretty far north, I got a bit curious about whether one is able to occasionally see the Northern Lights while flying? If you did, what time of year was it, where, and which side of the plane were you on, north or south? This has been a dream of mine since I was a child, and I thought, if it is possible, then I will keep an eye out for them. If not, I will just keep watching movies all night. Thanks for indulging me.

Posted by Richard
Los Angeles
633 posts

A quick Google and you'll see video of Aurora Borealis from commercial jets. For your Westbound trip you'll want to be on the right side of the plane of course. While Googling there are websites that predict when you'll be able to see the phenomenon.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

Je, no i havent on a plane nor on the ground. It has been reported and seen as far down as i live, but ive never been able to see it. I was in the Scandinavian countries last month and saw no sign of it. I hope to on a trip to iceland or on one of my travels. from what i remember about the northern lights, it has to do alot with the solar flares/activity, so if there isnt alot, then i woudlnt expect alot. happy trails.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4768 posts

I did find the website earlier today, which is what sort of prompted me to post the question. Hadn't thought to Google images from plane windows. Excuse me for a moment while I go look. P.S. I did reserves seats on the correct side, in hopes that this might be possible.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

Jo, check this website for the aurora forecast. I haven't seen them from a plane, but I did when I spent the winter in Alaska. It's really a matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time, persistence and patience.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4768 posts

Nice! The photos from the plane windows look great. Will check the weather forecast on the website before I fly and then keep my fingers crossed.
Thanks for the info!

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
259 posts

Jo - great question! We are flying on Iceland Air in 2 weeks. I will be keeping my fingers crossed too that we can see the Aurora Borealis. Can you imagine how cool that would be?? Good luck to you!

Posted by Janet
Lakewood, WA
50 posts

No I have never seen an aurora but would love too.
Where are you sitting on the flight? If you are right behind the wings the lights could interfer with seeing an aurora. I have read a couple of news articles that people who pictured an aurora so take this with a grain of salt. They put a blaket or a box over the camra to reduce reflections in the window and had a camara where they could use a lengthy exposure, like a DSLR. I think they have exposures times in the mintutes but I am not sure. They also rigged some sort of seat tripod/duct tape to window contraption to keep the camara stable as possible. If you do a search for space and weather several website will pop up to give you information about photographing an event. I hope this helps.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

You will need darkness to see the aurora. Isn't the flight over (from Europe to Seattle) during the day? If either flight will be at night, sit on the north side of the plane (right side coming over, left side on the return) for the best chance of seeing it. But the U of A Geophysical Institute website has a forecast of low activity for the next week or so. Maybe that will change by the time of you flight.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Forecasts are only good for a week or so out, don't take into account the location of the viewer, nor the local ambients and weather. Flying. I've only seen it out the front window a couple of times and never as a pax out the little windows but I doubt the wing/engine would block a significant amount. From the ground I've seen it nights in a row when the odds were supposedly low and never seen it when you'd be expected to. Who knows?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

barf bag for anybody flying with Ed. smiley face with tears running down emoticon. thanks for the word picture

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

I have never seen them from a plane, only from the ground, but that was many times because I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for 8 winters. I think in either case you are looking up at the lights because they are very high. If you see a good display- full color from red to green and lots of movement, it is amazing. From the ground, you are looking at the lower edge of a huge vertical display. I describe it as lying on a stage, looking up at the bottom edge of the theater curtain as someone shakes it to create waves of movement. You see the leading edge, plus the vertical development going who knows how far up into the stratosphere or ionosphere or whatever it is. It usually occurred around midnight or later. We had a network of friends who would call each other when there was a good one. That was after we got phones. ( Not all that common in Alaska in the 70's.) We were back in Alaska last August and apparently there were good lights several nights, visible from Denali NP. But it was around 3:00 so we were not up at that time. Even in daylight the flight past Iceland and over Greenland can be beautiful. If it is clear over Greenland you are in for a treat.

Posted by steve
troy, ny
156 posts

Flew over Greenland on my return from Spain last month. Amazing!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

You will want to be facing north and hopefully have an unobstructed view from a window seat (right side of plane coming from Europe). I've seen northern lights many times from the window of aircraft while I was flying with the Air Force. So many times that I don't even look nowadays because sleep is more important to me when I'm flying to Europe (and the flight home is typically daytime). There is a forecast for chance of northern lights but, as Ed said, I've never found those to be particularly reliable - they're there when they're there. The most dramatic view of northern lights is looking up at them. My fondest memory is camping in British Columbia after intermittent snow and rain all day. The clouds broke fairly late in the evening and the lights were magnificent through crystal clear skies.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

'The most dramatic view of northern lights is looking up at them.' Oh, he'll no! The most dramatic view is to be hovering, then stomp the left pedal and see how many twirls you can get in before the copilot gets puffy-cheeked, then see if you can get it stopped before he/she pukes his/her guts out. Research paid for by your tax dollars. Thank you.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4768 posts

Ed, you said you wouldn't tell! I fly over in the daytime, but fly back at night. Have chosen seats on the north side for both trips, just for the heck of it. Since sunset is around 1730 in Nov. + or -, one never knows. If I see them, I see them, if not, will be watching movies. I like to look out the windows at the stars, moon, and whatever is passing below.

Posted by Joel
Tempe, AZ, USA
843 posts

In 1973, I think I flew with a helicopter pilot that was related to Ed.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

"I think in either case you are looking up at the lights because they are very high. If you see a good display" I was going to make that exact comment before Lola beat me to it. I'm pretty certain the collision of the solar wind and the Earth's atmosphere that causes the phenomenon occurs well above the altitude that most commerical airline fly. Now, maybe if you fly on Sir Richard's Brason's new airline, you might be able to see them looking down...

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

When I've seen them flying, they don't seem higher than me. Even though they might be higher than the 30-45 thousand feet I'm flying, they only take up a portion of the horizon (at least all the times I've seen them). It's more like looking at a mountain range than looking at the stars. Another thought, statutory sunset isn't the same as dark even on the ground. In the air, the day lasts longer because you can see over more horizon. I can't recall ever seeing the northern lights (or at least they didn't stand out enough for me to notice) when it wasn't fully dark.

Posted by Chip
Tipton, Iowa
329 posts

I saw them on an Icelandair flight to Europe in March 1973.

Posted by JB
Redding, CA, USA
1568 posts

Having lived in Fairbaks, Alaska and north of the Brooks Range we saw the Northern Lights (as we called it)very often. It is truely a sight one never forgets....the colors can change. They just bounce and move around the sky and in all formations. Even the people that live there never tire of the light show.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2612 posts

That would be a great experience...hope you see them. Have a good time in the US. Wish you were closer to my area, or that I was
going to be on the west coast while you are there. I will be in touch on my next trip to Germany (don't know when that will be)

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4768 posts

It wasn't dark on my trip to the US on Monday, but we sort of just flew into the sunset for hours. We had clear skies and I have to say, flying Iceland Air has to be one of the most scenic flights ever. Hours of glaciers, snow, mountains, rivers, lakes and seas. Stunning and magnificent don't even come close to describing this view. Took lots of photos with my iPad and iPhone both. Though the window was a bit dirty, I got some great photos. Now, I can only hope the skies are conducive to the northern lights in a couple of weeks.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3584 posts

Jo, I want to see those photos on Saturday!

Ah - time-stamp issues; Nigel's post doesn't make sense until a few posts later. Or, maybe he was just time-traveling into the future...

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4768 posts

Hi, just reporting back about my trip. No Northern Lights. The skies were clear, but predictions were set for Sat. and not Thur. night. The skies were clear enough that I could see the land (ice) and water almost the entire way from Seattle to Iceland. Kind of surprising to be able to do this at night.

Will definitely fly Iceland Air again. The flight back was only 7 hours! Love being able to get off a plane as soon as possible. Took sandwiches and snacks with me both ways and got to watch quite a few movies in between taking photos of the scenery.