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Catching the Great American Eclipse at 35,000 Feet (alaskaair.com)
455 points by kylebarron on Aug 25, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 116 comments

This is nothing new from Alaska Air. I congratulate them for this! In fact this happened near Hawaii https://blog.alaskaair.com/alaska-airlines/news/eclipse-flig... in 2015.

Alaska is a great airline. I fly about 70k miles per year on them and am very rarely disappointed.

I'm guessing you have status with them? Almost every airline is great once you have status.

Personally, I hate Alaska. I fly ~2/month & avoid Alaska if I can. My wife's family is from Seattle, so sadly, they're unavoidable around the holidays.

Some grievances:

* Ridiculous fees. Before we were married my wife booked two flights for after we were married. She changed her name & realized that would cause a problem with those tickets. Southwest made the name change without a fuss. Alaska charged us $100.

When we protested & explained she had gotten married, the agent responded: "Every airline does this." "We just did it with Southwest & they didn't charge anything." "We don't consider Southwest competition."

* Alaska’s 20 Minute Bag Guarantee felt like a sham. It's no longer running (I believe), but multiple times my bags took over 30 minutes. Each time it took nearly an hour to get someone to give a voucher. And the vouchers are very limited.

* They charge for simple modifications to tickets.

* They charge for bags.

* Consistent long lines at LAX & SEA.

* Older planes. Both coach & first are C+ compared to other airlines.

* In-flight personal aren't as bad as United, but they're certainly not nice. Southwest & Virgin set the bar here & Alaska is far from it.

Yeah most of their planes are disgusting and I can't stand their branding. It's such a shame that they acquired Virgin America. I loved that airline. I wish we lived in a world where that acquisition had been the other way around.

Why are their planes "disgusting"? I fly a lot, both short haul and long haul, and I can't see any quality difference (is that what you mean?) between any planes from any carriers. They are all the same. Mind you, there are differences in seat pitch, lack of USB ports and so on, but I would not call any plane more disgusting than any other plane.

I primarily fly Alaska or Virgin America. Virgin planes are much newer, cleaner and ask around beautiful pieces of design. The Alaska planes are run down, less well kept and have a ugly design to begin with. Flying Virgin is like traveling inside a first generation iPod.

For what it's worth I flew with them two days ago and they were still announcing the 20 min bag guarantee. My bags didn't take long either

You say "simple modifications to tickets", but give no examples. Are you just repeating your earlier accusation of charging for name changes?

At any rate, you just spoke to to someone who didn't know the company policies well enough, Alaska doesn't charge for name changes due to marriage. It's actually the only exception AFAIK. You have to present some paperwork as proof, but it can be done. You just happened to talk to someone who was not aware this exception existed. You could have asked to talk to someone else.

Also, consistent long lines at LAX & SEA? Do you have any suggestion on how the airline has any control over how quickly they can check people in?

Most airlines these days charge for bags, especially for domestic flights.

I don't come to the US often, but in my limited experience I've had a better flight on Alaska than the majority of US based airline providers.

Sat in the back on an Alaska flight to Hawaii and they ran out of food a couple rows before me. Felt like a bad MBA optimization - save $20 on food by under buying at the cost of periodically making a few passenger unhappy for a 5 hour flight.

Same thing happened to us, also on a flight to Hawaii. Except we sat near the middle of the plane. We had to feed our two young kids using various snacks and cheese plates.

Seems like there is a systemic failure - their food oversubscription system doesn't correct for a fact that on a six hour flight almost every passenger will buy food.

Any compensation offered?

I assume that wasn't free food he's talking about

Or could have just been a simple human error.

I've been disappointed once with them.

Bought 2 tickets (one for me, one for GF). She was assigned a seat, I was told they don't allot all seats for any given flight and that I would get that seat at the gate. Couldn't change through Alaska Airlines phone/web portal. At the gate they gave me a seat in the very back of the plane since all the other seats had been assigned. It's crazy to me that I couldn't choose seats on purchase - especially when buying 2 together.

That's just not factually true, as well - I fly on Alaska all the time and pick a seat each flight. Usually you get your choice from a restricted list on purchase and then can pick from a more open list on check-in.

Except... it happened to me. Maybe because I bought through American Airlines, since it was AA operated by Alaska.

For future reference, you can look up Alaska iterinary by AA e-ticket number and change seats directly on Alaskas website. I've done it a number of times

That didn't work for me. I feel like everyone is assuming I didn't go through all possible ways to try and change my seats before accepting my fate...

What do you like about them?

Being in Seattle, they're the local airlines for me, so a lot of my flights go through them. They have top to bottom great customer service - from the call centers to check in staff to flight attendants. Everything just works with them. I've had odd requests/problems here and there before, and the call center staff really try to work with you to solve the problem. And they're US based, not a call center in India.

I also never get the feeling the check in agents are just mailing it in. I've had bad experiences before with agents before (a tired AA agent once just through my suitcase on to the belt right after I told him I was checking in a firearm), but it seems Alaska cares a lot more and they're better trained (more consistent).

They also are a great community partner here and sponsor a lot of events and organizations including things like Pride celebrations.

I love Alaska as well. They have amazing customer support. I was stranded in SF some time ago because someone broke into my car and stole my stuff. I had an onward flight to NYC the next day. So I called Alaska and told them that I needed a flight back home since I can't make it to NYC. The person on the phone without hesitation re-booked me on the next flight back and even refunded the difference. No change fees and no extras. I was flying coach.

I also really like them as an Airline, and use them often to go to and from Hawai'i. Their staff is usually very kind and the planes are clean. I don't remember the seat sizes.. I am not a 'big' person so not an issue for me (at least yet)

They get the basics right. The seat sizes aren't anything special but that's okay for most people.

They're like McDonalds. Not fancy but consistent in getting you there, OK service and no attitude.

At least in SJC, they are the only airline that consistently loads from both ends of the plane. I like them for that.

Really? I fly about two times a year to HI - never happened. But anyways, my favorite airline, the companion ticket thing rocks (especially to HI)!

Ha for the companion ticket I prefer Southwest (though it's a slight chore to get the companion pass). They don't fly to HI though.

another cool one is the 70's one using the Concorde: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/8q8qwk/the-concor...

Love that plane looks futuristic, reminds me of that scene from 2001: Space Odyssey

So anyone observing totality in that region would have perhaps seen (and heard) the Concorde in front of the eclipse?


Does anyone have pointers on where I could get an estimate on average maintenence costs / flight hour & fuel costs for a Boeing 737-900ER?

Interested in working up a rough number for how much this cost to make happen. Can't imagine it was profitable.

And very cool!

Edit: Per Boeing [1], they quote $151 / flight hour in actual service on a 737-800. Random site [2] gives fuel on a 737-900ER as 0.17 km per litre / 0.40 NM per gallon.

Edit2: After some digging, here's the flight track: https://flightaware.com/live/flight/ASA9671/history/20170821...

[1] http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aero_15/costs_...

[2] https://www.aircraftcompare.com/helicopter-airplane/Boeing-7...

Of course it wasn't profitable, it was promotional. Compare to marketing budget for TV ads and such.

A small sized business jet charters for about $1,000 an hour. I'd guess a long 737 would go for between $10,000 and $25,000 an hour.

Edit: Here are some charter prices: http://www.aircharterguide.com/Aircraft/Manufacturer/BOEING

Conklin and de Decker are a respected (though not perfect) source for variable operating costs for various airframes.

They list the various BBJs (which are based on 737s) at $5360-$5749 per hour.


BBJ3 is based on the 737-900ER

Thanks! So that looks like ~$26,125 for a 4.75 hr flight in pure costs (fuel, plane and engine maintainence) exclusive of crew pay. If the numbers are totalling the line items above.

So call it around $50k all included.

Depreciation doesn't look like it's in that number either, but I'd say that's probably ignorable when you're as heavily utilized as a major carrier plane is.

That seems like a good ballpark number for something a carrier would agree to. Not something to do every day, but arguably worth the PR and not going to torpedo the company either.

The CdD figures usually do include crew costs, so they attempt to be "all-in" numbers, minus cost of financing.

The reason they're $0 on the report you're looking at is they're trying to sell you the report with the actual figures, not that those costs haven't been included.

Crew rates for majors are published. Here's Alaska's: http://www.airlinepilotcentral.com/airlines/legacy/alaska_ai...

Call the flight crew $300/hr, and the cabin crew probably another $150/hr.

Ah, was confused as they lined them up below the total line, so was assuming they might break them out.

With charter, you skip the TSA. It can even make financial sense, of you're a group and were going to fly first class.

Also, a buddy who has a plane time share is handy.

Given where I live, I know a bunch of pilots. The time share plane was new to me. That's kinda need and not that expensive.

> Can't imagine it was profitable.

The comments clarify that "This was an invite-only charter, special for the eclipse!", and the images show members of the press, so that was probably never the goal.

That $151/hour is only maintenance. Fuel, crew, and depreciation will add substantial amounts on top of that.

There's no way that a 737 costs $151/hr to maintain. Small, simple, 4 or 6 seat single-engined airplanes (albeit on the high end) cost that much. Commercial airliners are going to be in the thousands of dollars per hour.

You're right. On closer examination, that's specifically airframe maintenance. So that would exclude engines and probably other important and expensive things.

Good point. I was interested in how much Alaskan had to foot for pure curiousity reasons. I have no idea how much the actual cost of a flight is.

I'm curious too. I wish I had something more concrete than "it's much higher than that." The best bet may be to look at charter prices, then divide by some small factor (2-4?) to account for profit margins and the better economies of scale an airline will have and such.

If you ping me tomorrow, I can try to get you those numbers. I know a bunch of pilots. They'll even let me fly the plane. I'm sure they will have some sources but it's too late to bug them tonight.

Based on sokoloff's source, it looks to be a bit under $50k in total cost (to the airline).

If you want to run that number by your friends for a 4.75 hr flight in a 737-900ER, it'd be nice to get confirmation.

PS: You lucky dog. I've been debating going for my pilot's license.

About $3750/hr. There is also ownership costs which are about $3500/day.

By the way, flying small planes is more fun. With the larger planes, I've been expected to mostly keep it going the right direction. In the smaller prop jobs, my friends don't much care so long as I don't bump into anything.

You don't need a license to pilot the plane. A licensed pilot can let you take the controls. Just hit up your nearest regional and pay the fuel costs and a few extra bucks. Someone will take you up. It does help to have friends with planes and live where that is pretty common.

Thanks! That's kind of inline with the numbers above after they were clarified, ex ownership costs.

And noted. I may see if I can get a flight. My long term dream is to acquire float plane.

If you know the pilot and have flown with them a few times, they might let you do both the landing and the takeoff. I've never landed on the water, but I've landed on skis and over-sized tires on the river's shore.

Most pilots I've met are happy to encourage a love of flying. Planes are pretty common here (outside Rangeley, Maine) and I've been encouraged to get one. I probably won't, but I do consider getting my license.

Here is a picture I took after messing with the aperture and having quite a long lense https://i.stack.imgur.com/YvyJB.jpg from Robinsville NC. I swear you can see stars in there but could be wrong.

There's definitely some stars in there :)


I'd like to see what you can come up with doing this on the original file!

Mercury was visible to the naked eye, but I didn’t see much else. Was not really looking for stars though.

Nice shot, btw.

Where I was watching (the "day tripper" area at Solartown in Madras, Oregon) there was one bright point source reasonably near the Sun which I assume was Mercury [1]. Overall the sky was brighter than I expected, and if there were stars visible there were not many of them.

There was also some idiot's drone buzzing above us, with red lights on two of its opposite arms and green lights on the other two arms.

[1] or rather, I assume it was the same planet you saw.

That was Venus. not Mercury.

It was neither. It was Regulus. Mercury was further away (still relativelly close) and Venus was much further away.

I sit corrected :)

Venus was the only planet (or star) that stood out.

I travelled last minute London -> Chicago -> Portland -> Salem to see my first total eclipse. The Saturday night flight to Portland was packed with excited passengers, all talking about the eclipse. The captain (Spirit Airlines) even announced the flight as the 'Eclipse Express', to cheers from everyone.

I was watching the eclipse in Corvallis and, about 10 minutes before totality, a plane jetted around at high altitude and left a contrail[1]. The new cloud, in the otherwise perfectly clear sky, began to drift toward the sun and I thought, "There could be few better symbols of the attitude that some of %0.0001 have to the rest of us than this." Fortunately, even though the contrail did drift over the sun during totality[1], it was very thin (and dark) and did not distract and the event in the least.

I'm glad Alaska Air did this flight over the Pacific and not where they would distract hundreds of thousands of people with their flight. Anyone know how to find out what flight (or private jet) was the one I saw was? Would be an interesting fact to add to my memory of the event.

Please forgive the many artifacts from this smartphone camera.

[1] Before totality (https://njarboe.com/eclipse/beforeTotality.jpg)

[2] During totality (https://njarboe.com/eclipse/totality.jpg). This photo was right at the beginning of totality and in no way captures what I saw, but does show where the contrail ended up. I was more interested in experiencing the eclipse than trying to get a photo.

Fascinating that you have no idea what flight it was, but you immediately chalked it up to another example of "the 0.0001%" harming you.

That's pretty ridiculous. For all you know, it was on some kind of humanitarian mission. Statistically, of course, it was probably just a routine commercial jet full of average people.

What's crazy to me is someone on the ground in a small town thinking that the global ATC system should route around them (and apparently all small towns and random gatherings of people) so that they won't miss seeing an eclipse.

Earlier in the day, before the eclipse, there were a dozen or more private jets flying over my sister's place into the local airport when the previous days there were none. Some even had to circle (to wait for others to land?). This probably primed my mind about private jets. Then this jet was not just flying straight through but came from the south, turned to the east, and then headed south. Could have been NASA? That is why I was querying about how one would find out about it? My thought about it was more of how perfect the symbolism would be if the jet was say Ellison's than a knee jerk reaction against the 0.0001%. The efforts and accomplishments of many 0.0001% er's have brightened my life over the years and I wish most of them the best of luck.

Did you do a replay on one of the ADS-B sites?

Try fr24.com, you can go back one month without an account I think. Convert your local date and time to UTC.

Here you go, jiggle the time slider around a bit. This is for 17:00 UTC, 09:00 PDT, on 21 August 2017:


You can pause and click on an aircraft icon for more information. Some will have their registrations blocked on request but usually have their type indicated ( so you can determine bizjet or airliner ).

That is a cool website. I would guess the plane is the one labeled FA7X on this site. Looks like it came from Boeing Field, flew out near Newport on the coast, followed the eclipse path just north of Corvallis out to eastern Oregon, and then back to Boeing Field landing around 10:54am Pacific. It was going fast and at high altitude (about 41,000ft and 430 knots), unlike most of the other planes in the area. Its altitude probably explains why it was the only jet creating a visible contrail. If this was the jet, it shows how bad eye witness testimony can be as it flew almost due east over where I was. The site says its a Dassault Falcon 7X; so a bizjet type plane. No tail number like many other planes shown. A quick google did not get me a list of the planes in and out of Boeing Field that day, but I would imagine it's available somewhere.

Glad you found it. The 7X is popular for eclipse hunters, they can cruise high and stable and have good-sized windows and can take about 18 people with all their kit; they also form their contrail aft of the tail due to the engine location, so less interference for photography.

I have a couple of friends who flew on one over the Faroes during the 2015 eclipse, there were more than a dozen chartered aircraft circling for that one.

My mom drove me up from Eugene. We planned to go all the way to Corvallis but we saw a lot of people out so we stopped short and parked in a field.

And I did see that plane and the contrail.

If anyone is curious what it looked like when recording with a iPhone6 propped against a Snapple bottle on the roof of my mom's car. Here you go.


edit.. It looks like you can see the contrail on the right in the video.

Strange, I was between Corvallis and Albany and don’t recall that at all. I must have been too distracted by the experience to notice much.

We put on Dark Side of the Moon as thematic music. By pure accident, the climactic finish of the album, “Eclipse”, just happened to start playing as totality hit, and ended as the “diamond ring” appeared. I’ll never forget those two minutes as long as I live.

This photo was right at the beginning of totality and in no way captures what I saw,

It amazes me how inadequate every photo ever taken is compared to actually seeing the eclipse. They just don't capture the beauty of the corona.

Saw that too, from Albany.

Best part of the video: https://youtu.be/8FwF1DvksIQ?t=52s

Agreed. Seeing the moon's shadow racing across the Earth was pretty damned slick.

I was on this flight, and it was incredible! AMA

Who sit on the left side of rows?

What was it like EXITING totality? Was it like God said, let there be light?

It was pretty incredible. The "diamond ring" really bursts out over the edge of the moon, and then it's glasses on or look away, because the sun's back.

How much do flights like these cost?

You couldn't buy a ticket, invite and media only.

How much did the guest have to pay?

How many planes crossed the total solar eclipse's path? probably a bunch...

Concorde (or the Tu-144) could've kept up with the shadow

They did this on June 30, 1973. While it stayed in totality 10x longer than would have been possible on the ground, it did not stay for the entire path of totality. Look at the umbral velocity - only the bottom of the parabola is obtainable by even a Concorde.


But it`s kinda very beautiful !!

God that music...

Who's ready for the next one?

steve mnuchin is that you?

Did people really call it the Great American Eclipse? I hadn't seen that phrase before this.

Yep, I think it was a Twitter trending topic.

Is anyone else bothered by the term "American" eclipse? I don't think astronomical events have any notion of nationality.

There are lots of examples of Americentrism, but I don't think this is one. The eclipse was basically only visible from the United States.

For reference, here's the chart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SE2017Aug21T.png

I am seated beside the Ambien Wallrus and we both agreed that image moved. We watched it for a good five minutes. It's not just me, the Wallrus confirmed it.

> There are lots of examples of Americentrism

Such as the fact that that word refers to the USA and not the whole of the Americas :)

The USA is the only country with America in it's name as far as I'm aware.

Before the USA, North America was called America and all of its inhabitants (or at least the British-descended ones -- any history buffs?) were "American".

It is a little tongue-in-cheek, but I find it amusing that the history of the word itself is an example of what it describes.

> Before the USA, North America was called America and all of its inhabitants (or at least the British-descended ones -- any history buffs?) were "American"

History is overflowing with perpetual name changes for countries, regions, cities, etc. There's nothing unusual about it other than that in this case it applies to the US, which as the sole superpower is a magnet for over-inflating such ridiculous non-issues.

Do you think that naming things the "Tunguska event" or the "Chelyabinsk meteor" unduly favor Russian sites? It's an accurate descriptor of where it happened. You could, I suppose, take issue with the "Great" adjective, but compared to the '79 eclipse, where totality was visible only in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota, this one was much more accessible.

It was called that because it hit all of North America, and very little outside of North America. It's not really so much nationalistic as it is descriptive.

It's a short, accurate description of where it happened....

It was the first Total Solar Eclipse to be seen over North America since the 70's...

First total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous U.S. since 1979. Not first over North America if Mexico is in North America. Mexico in 1991.

The August 1, 2008 total eclipse started in northern Canada.

The total eclipse of July 11, 1991 was seen in Mexico which is part of North America.

Not just that - but the first total solar eclipse where everyone in all of the Americas would be able to see it in a century!

I object to the phrase "great American" because it's hackneyed & trite.

This is America. You can complain, if you want. You have that right. We also have the right to laugh at you. It was a pretty great eclipse.

Yeah. I get it. It was great, like every eclipse is great. And it was visible in America. So strictly speaking it was indeed a "great American eclipse." But not everything that's technically true deserves to be turned into a Cheesy Marketing Buzzword Made Of Wishful Thinking.

America is on the down-slide of greatness. You can tell this by taking an honest look around, but also just by listening to the widespread shrill insistence on how great it still is. So "Great American This" and "Great American That" is not only played-out as I said, but probably inaccurate as there become fewer and fewer great things to be found in America.

Anyway. The phrase "Great American Eclipse" also sounds just a tiny bit like America is taking credit for the eclipse, when of course the eclipse didn't need any help from America. America just happened to be underneath it this time around.

Finally it reeks of the same old American self-congratulation (for things that are not at all unique to America) that you can see almost anywhere in America, including your comment, patronizingly reminding me of my rights.

Yeah, I think you're reading that into it.

Stupid title indeed. On the other hand it certainly eclipsed America. At least part thereof.

yeah, me too. I even saw it _in_ the U.S., but I didn't see American nothing, I saw an astronomical event that has nothing to do with borders.

>Great American Eclipse

That is rather egocentric to be honest. It is just a solar eclipse that happened to be visible in the U.S. this time.


I disagree. Calling it the 'Great American Eclipse' is fair because it crossed over the entire country coast to coast making it accessible to just about every major population center by car. It was also only visible in America.

That's pretty neat.

The title really rankles me -it was a brilliant eclipse and it was an eclipse only viewable in America, I understand this completely but it still rankles possibly irrationally.

I am not opposed to calling things American when, like I am not opposed to calling the 20th Century the American Century but there is something deeply annoying in claiming an astronomical thing as one's country.

It's like a form of possession and maybe its the Sun but for some reason it really really annoys me to give the event an American adjective.

You should ideally be more annoyed at a century being called the American century because it's insulting to all the other people and nations who also existed and were doing their shit. On the contrary, the eclipse literally did not exist for those outside America.

But it is equally also not something you owned that is the only point I am making - noone is saying 'literally' it's the world's eclipse, it just rankles when someone takes possession of something they do not own - rational or irrational. Perhaps something more interesting to explore would be me and 10 others in the thread above think that way.

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