If you’re one of the people who always books an aisle seat, you can stop reading. I never do, because I enjoy the view; It’s a six-mile-high platform and you’ll see astonishing things. Keep your camera handy and you’ll come home with good pictures too.
It turns out that one side of the plane is better than the other. In particular, you always want to be on the side facing away from the sun, to avoid glare, unreadable computer screens, and demands from grouchy seatmates to get the damn sun out of their damn eyes.
Usually, this is pretty straightforward. If you’re flying up and down the West-Coast corridor, points between Vancouver and LA, when you’re going south you want to be on the right side in the morning, on the left in the afternoon. Turn that around going north.
On big international flights, it can get tricky. Consider North America to Europe; because of the shape of the earth, the plane flies north up over Greenland, then over Iceland, then down over the very north of the British Isles and on into Europe. Most of these flights are red-eyes, so you’re going north in the afternoon/evening, and coming south next morning. So you want to be on the right side of the plane. And you want to stay on the right side coming back because they tend to be daytime flights; the north/south calculus is less significant, but the sun is going to stay parked on the south i.e. left side of the plane for hours and hours. Obviously, North America to Asia is pretty well the same story.
For those of you who frequent the Sydney-Dubai or São Paulo-Lisbon routes, you’ll have to do your own sunshine model.
One time quite a few years ago, coming into Tokyo from Sydney, it was late afternoon and the sun was shining sideways in gold between the high and low layers of creamy rumpled clouds, each intervening wisp casting endless shadows into that light. There was a cloud gap below and green mountains thrusting from islands into the gold, and then two other aircraft twinkling silver and leaving infinite parallel trails across the endless glowing emptiness. At the time I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.