Pilot’s tip: how to see the Northern Lights when you fly

Think you need to take a cold, wintry hike to the remote wilderness of Iceland to see the ethereal and jaw-dropping Northern Lights? Well, guess what? It’s easy to spot one of the world’s greatest and most iconic natural phenomena by just booking the right flight.

Captain Sigríður Einarsdóttir shares her insights on how to chase and catch the world’s most spectacular natural light show on air.

Seeing the world-famous and majestic Aurora Borealis is a dream come true and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for most people. But, for Icelandic pilot, Sigríður Einarsdóttir, witnessing this grand show is part of her regular routine.

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For over 30 years, Captain Sigríður Einarsdóttir has been soaring over the icy landscapes of the Arctic. And, in her tenure as a pilot, she has spotted the grandness of the northern lights a number of times.

Just recently, she saw three appearances from the northern lights in four days, during her routes near Greenland and Iceland.  

So, how easy is it to catch the northern lights from a plane? And, how can we see them on our future flight? Einarsdóttir shares some tips and suggestions on how to see this natural phenomenon when you’re flying 30,000 above the ground.

Travel in fall and winter

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There’s no better time to fly over the Arctic than the end of November, says Einarsdóttir. It’s close to the lovely winter solstice – the year’s shortest day – meaning it will provide the ultimate darkness blanket.

It’s best to the northern lights from above

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Seeing this wondrous natural phenomenon from above is truly an extraordinary experience. Not only are the lights more vibrant and brighter, but you can also see more of its dazzling subtle movements.

While the lights are awe-inspiring from any vantage point, seeing from a plan is certainly something remarkable and special.

It depends on the flight routes

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Since it’s a real natural phenomenon, there are no guaranteed appearances and sightings, when it comes to the Aurora Borealis. And, for the most part, it’s different.

Captain Sigríður Einarsdóttir, for instance, saw these gleaming lights on her way to Iceland from London Heathrow. Then, a couple of days later, these lights put on another lively show on their route south of Greenland from Washington DC.

The following day, she caught sight of it again from her hometown, Reykjavik.

The best time to see the northern lights from a plane 

Source: Pexels
Source: Pexels

Nothing is guaranteed, with nature. So, there’s no specific best time to see the Aurora Borealis from a plane. The biggest factors are darkness and visibility, meaning any flight on a beautiful clear night with some dark skies has a higher chance of spotting them.

Use an app

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You’ll have a better chance of seeing these lights in nights with limited cloud cover. And, there are apps like the Icelandic Met Office that may come in handy, when you’re trying to figure out the visibility of the skies on any night.