Watching a total eclipse of the sun is, typically, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was lucky enough to see one once before, in 1970, from Eastern North Carolina. But watching the eclipse on August 21, 2017 from an altitude of 37,000 feet above Western Idaho along with 173 others equally excited was truly a “who gets to do something like THIS???” moment! Between Southwest's flights up, down, and across the continent, we actually had several regularly scheduled flights within the path of totality—best of all, there were seats available for anyone that wanted to buy a ticket to witness the show in the sky. My Coheart David and I were onboard Flight 1368, Portland to St. Louis, which followed the path of totality perfectly. We're here to tell you what it was like, with as many pictures as we can.
Monday, 8/31—5:30 a.m. PDT
Arrived at the Portland International Airport after a 3-hour drive from Seattle. Was expecting heavy traffic. There was none. The only notable thing about the trip was some random guy at a (totally packed) Rest Area off of the I-5 dressed in a Poo Emoji costume. (???)
6:00 a.m. PDT
Southwest ticket counters and kiosks are busy, not crazed. Chatted with a few Friends in Customer Service working the counter, had some (badly needed) coffee, and proceeded through TSA Checkpoint for Concourse C.
At gate C12, there were a few enthusiasts already in the waiting area for our 9:00 a.m. flight. We began chatting with them as the crowd of enthusiasts grew—people had actually flown TO Portland to take this specific flight! We had Customers from Manchester, NH, NYC, Las Vegas, and a father/son duo that traveled from their homes in Denver and San Diego (respectively) that were all there and flying for the same reason—to join One Team: All Eclipse!
7:30 a.m PDT
Our inbound aircraft, N8306H—a 737-800—was operating about 30 minutes behind schedule due to air traffic getting out of the Bay Area in Northern California. Everything indicated we would still be fine, we’d just meet Eclipse 2017 a little quicker than we’d planned. We’d still be high into the stratosphere!
8:15 a.m. PDT
We begin our announcements about the special flight, for which we received applause, cheers, whoops and loud shouts of “YES!!!!” It was clear we had a “boat” full of fliers eager to see the eclipse from the heavens. About that time our ride to the skies pulled into our gate to even more whoops and cheers.
9:00 a. m. PDT
Preboarding begins, followed by general boarding. All Customers and Crew aboard all of our Eclipse2017 flights received certified Southwest Eclipse Glasses and a commemorative card outlining the events AND the “cosmic drinks” to be offered aboard!
9:30 a.m. PDT
Pushback from gate C12! On our way—we’re airborne and wheels-up just minutes later. Everyone aboard immediately hit the Free TV available on Southwest to watch either CBS News or NBC News, both of which were broadcasting the eclipse live, starting about 75 miles Southeast of Portland in Madras, OR. We were closing in on Madras along our line of flight and actually watching the progress of the eclipse approaching us from the back via Free TV!
9:50 a.m. PDT
The sunlight starts to become less intense as we cross the Columbia River heading to the Southeast. Our Captain has told us he will fly our aircraft through a series of curves to give Customers on both sides of the plane a great view, which would be taking place almost directly above us, and practices just to let us know what it felt like.
11:20 a.m. MDT
We just crossed the line into Idaho (and the Mountain Time Zone) and it’s getting very dark. Captain gives us a three-minute warning of near-totality, with totality expected at approximately 11:27 a.m. for about three minutes (one minute longer than on the ground because of our speed). Excitement among everyone, Customers and Crew alike, is growing as the land and skies darken!
11:27 a.m. MDT
TOTALITY!! Our Captain begins S-turns to give everyone a viewPhoto Courtesy of Jim—and WHAT a sight! The cabin is dark but more excited than a Friday night flight to Las Vegas. You can hear People all over the cabin in window seats are saying “Come on! Lean over here! Get this shot! LOOK AT THIS!” Here’s the photo my new Friend Jim from New Hampshire in the row in front of me took, as well as one my colleague David took of the horizon during totality. Note the corona of the sun in Jim’s and how you can see past the moon’s shadow in David’s out into where the sun is still shining!
Eclipse Across the Horizon, Courtesy of David
11:31 a.m. MDT
And just like that ... totality is over, and the sun seems to increase in intensity far quicker than it faded. I guess it’s like a concert you’ve waited to see—the run-up seems interminable, the event seems to flash by, and before you know it, you’re looking for the after party—which we got! Our awesome Flight Attendants came through with drinks. Then, with more than two-and-a-half hours left, for many of us, it was nap time!
As someone that remembers People more than sights or things, the excitement of the Customers and Crew on board flight 1368 is what I’ll remember most. We thought we’d be the only geeked-out people aboard. Wow were we wrong! A close second would be the incredible views, majesty, and sheer humbling beauty of watching a total eclipse of the sun, 37,000 feet in the sky inside and aircraft with their Heart on the entry door. It’s totally worth it, everyone. So ... see you again in April of 2024?