Here’s How the 2024 Solar Eclipse Will Impact Air Travel

Skift Take

The solar eclipse will have a minimal impact on air travel, but airlines are operating a slew of flights that will give flyers a special view of the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Leading up to April 8, cities in the eclipse’s path of totality prepare for an influx of tourists. But, even with some extra traffic for airports and airlines, operations likely won’t look too different.

Skift named April’s eclipse “this year’s top travel phenomenon,” with cities such as Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Dallas gearing up for the big day. Some airlines offered specialized experiences for eclipse travel, and tourism bureaus coordinated events to celebrate the evening. 

With these plans in place, those flying in may wonder about what to expect in the air.

Will There Be Any Travel Disruptions?

It’s possible. The Federal Aviation Administration warned of potentially higher traffic at airports in the eclipse’s path. 

“Traffic should anticipate delays during peak traffic periods,” the FAA said in a statement.

Some airports did not express concern about incoming travelers but still plan to take precautions. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority operates the Niagara Falls International Airport and Buffalo Niagara International Airport, two airports on the eclipse path. NFTA Aviation Deputy Director Russell Stark said air traffic control is preparing for more traffic, but the airport itself has not observed more traffic than usual.

“We have not seen any increase in the traveling public coming via airplane,” Stark said. He expressed concern about the roadways beyond the airport and does not have enough information to know if air traffic from other airports would impact arrivals or departures.

A spokesperson from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport also did not have clarity on the airport traffic, but “the airport’s rental car partners… expect to have the busiest days on record for car rentals around the time of the eclipse.”

Other than the special eclipse flights run by certain airlines, Indianapolis International Airport does not foresee a big change in operations. The airport estimates the highest traffic period will be April 9, as people leave the morning after the eclipse. 

“Nearly 20% of our traffic on Tuesday, April 9, will be departing by 7 a.m.” said Megan Carrico, director of public affairs for the Indianapolis Airport Authority.

So, while there may be more air traffic congestion in the hours after the eclipse, expect busier roads in cities along the eclipse’s path, as well.

What Are Airports Doing to Prepare for the Eclipse?

The FAA advised airports to minimize procedures that could take attention away from potential traffic. The agency said pilot training operations at airports may either be “extremely limited” or “possibly prohibited” during the eclipse.

“The bottom line is it’s ‘operations normal’ around here with a few minor changes on our part,” Stark said. Stark emphasized that contractors working on projects around the airport need to prioritize eclipse safety, something that’s been incorporated into their daily briefings. NFTA employees also have access to eclipse glasses in case they work outside during that time.

Carrico said Indianapolis International Airport will apply its experience handling traffic from major sporting events during the eclipse. The airport also partnered with art students and Visit Indy to make decorative posters commemorating the event.

The Indianapolis International Airport is offering special solar eclipse sunglasses to commemorate the event. Photo: Indianapolis Airport Authority

Is It Safe to Fly in the Middle of a Solar Eclipse?

Yes. Whenever a plane is in the path of a solar eclipse, the sky will look dark for a few minutes. A solar eclipse doesn’t interfere with an airline’s operations — it’s almost no different than flying in the night, said Dr. Frederic Bertley, the CEO of the Center of Science and Industry, a museum in Columbus, Ohio. 

“It shouldn’t impact how the aircraft itself will fly in terms of solar radiation or flares or darkening of the skies,” Bertley said. 

A solar eclipse wouldn’t impact a pilot’s ability to fly an aircraft, either.

“It’s really from an aircraft and a pilot’s viewpoint,” Bertley said. “It’s just a matter of light versus less light. That’s all it is.” 

The Air Line Pilots Association said pilots could expect to see skies as dark as night if they are flying in the path of totality. Otherwise, travelers on flights further away from the path may see a dusky sky. 

Can I Experience the Eclipse From a Plane?

Yes. While many may purchase solar eclipse sunglasses to view the event from the ground up, witnessing it on a plane can also have its benefits. 

The main advantage of viewing an eclipse from a plane is that it’s above cloud cover, which could offer the clearest view. Bertley said around 40% to 60% of the country that’s in the path of totality will most likely have some cloud cover. 

And while someone on the ground might see an eclipse for a mere two to three minutes, a passenger on a plane in the path of totality could possibly view the eclipse for as long as six-and-a-half minutes. 

This is because a plane flies at around 500 miles per hour while the eclipse moves at 1,000 miles per hour, which essentially gives passengers the ability to see 50% more of the eclipse, Bertley said. 

However, for passengers on flights that are in the path of the eclipse, where you sit on the plane to view the eclipse matters. For example, if a traveler is on a flight leaving from Texas that goes along the path of totality from west to east, that traveler would need to sit on the right side of the plane to view the eclipse. Passengers sitting on the left side in this instance won’t see the eclipse. According to a spokesperson at Delta Air Lines, though, the airline is working with the FAA to approve S-turns on its special path-of-totality flights, ensuring both sides of the plane can view the eclipse.

Delta Air Lines offered a special flight from Austin to Detroit that covers the path of totality. After this flight sold out in under 24 hours, Delta started offering a flight from Dallas Fort Worth to Detroit. United Airlines is offering a slew of flights from Chicago and Houston that will allow travelers to catch a glimpse of the event. And Southwest Airlines has flights departing from Dallas Love Field, Austin, and St. Louis in the eclipse’s path.

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