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.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Eric Meyer (Dec 07 2011, at 19:03)

Agreed all ‘round, sir. As an added benefit, if you’re on the shaded side of the aircraft and it gets just above a cloud layer, you can see the shadows of the plane and its contrail.


From: Paul Morriss (Dec 08 2011, at 01:49)

What have you seen since that's more beautiful?


From: Toffer99 (Dec 08 2011, at 05:19)

Which side of the plane?

The inside.


From: Edd Dumbill (Dec 08 2011, at 11:44)

I feel compelled to add my own argument for the right side of the plane. I've observed that on large flights where there are two aisles, it's always quicker to get off if you're on the right hand side.

My theory as to why this is so runs like this: people on the left hand side--nearer the exit--politely defer to the stream of people coming from the right, who have a little more momentum as they head across the plane towards the door.

Watch next time, I've never seen a counterexample yet.


From: Michael (Dec 09 2011, at 06:05)

Sydney from Singapore etc. can be tricky. It's often overnight so all you get is the sunrise at landing, and that can be either north or south depending on the wind.

I think my most amazing plane view was flying over Afghanistan - like flying over another planet.


From: Anton McConville (Dec 09 2011, at 07:05)

Not a comment about the side of the plane, though I like your analysis and originality of thought ... my comment seconds your tip to keep a camera handy.

A few years ago, my plane couldn't land at Belfast airport for some reason, so we had to circle. It was a miraculously clear day for Ireland. The pilot took us on a bit of a trip it felt.

The plane flew low over the hills - so low I could see its shadow trying to catch us up. And I could understand the colours of the Irish tri-color much better seeing those colors trapped in the mix of sunlight, and dew on the grass.

It was a gift for someone searching for things to love about the place they grew up - I was grateful to be able to snap a photo that day.


From: a (Dec 19 2011, at 09:37)

POSH - port outbound, starboard homeward.

Or so they say.


From: Norman (Dec 22 2011, at 11:15)

I have the chance to travel all Central America, even I do it quite often, I never miss a chance to take the window and take pictures of everything.

I a trip from Guatemala to San José Costa Rica, you can take pictures of lakes, beaches, mountains 2 oceans and maybe pass by aprox, 20+ volcanoes. I have a lot of pics of it.. will post some..


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