Airlines rush to capitalize on eclipse interest with special flights

Airlines are just some of the businesses cashing in on the flurry of interest from sky-watchers for a first class seat to Monday's once in a lifetime solar event.

Airlines benefit from surge in demand, but on the whole the eclipse could cost the economy $700M

People take pictures on a plane during a solar eclipse in the Russian city of Murmansk in 2015. Americans are doing something similar on Monday, as the first total eclipse to cover the continental U.S. in almost a century takes place. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Airlines across America were rushing to cash in on the flurry of interest from sky-watchers for a first class seat to Monday's once in a lifetime solar event.

Southwest Airlines was touting five special flights targeting sky-watchers eager to get an out of this world view of the solar eclipse set to pass over the United States on Monday.

While solar eclipses are not uncommon, Monday's event is getting a lot of attention because the entire continental U.S. will have a viewing window for the first time in almost a century. 

The best place to catch the totality is a band roughly 100 kilometres wide stretching from Oregon in the northwest through 12 other states and into South Carolina on the Atlantic Coast. While any planes in the air at the right time in that area might have a great view from above the clouds, Southwest has singled out five specific flights that should give passengers the best look at the solar event:

  • Flight 1375, departing Seattle-Tacoma at 09:05 a.m. PT bound for St. Louis
  • Flight 1368  departing Portland at 09:05 a.m. PT bound for St. Louis
  • Flight 1577 departing Denver at 10:20 a.m. MT bound for St. Louis
  • Flight 301 departing Denver at 10:20 a.m. MT bound for Nashville
  • Flight 1969 departing Denver at 09:50 am.m. MT bound for Atlanta

All five flights will have special features to commemorate the event, the airline said, "including special viewing glasses, [and] cosmic cocktails."

The five flights were sold out, according to the airline's website.

Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, planned a special charter flight departing from Portland, Oregon at 7:30 in the morning on Monday aimed at giving early birds a sneak peek. The flight headed west over the Pacific Ocean to give passengers a view of the celestial event ahead of anyone else on the U.S. mainland.

While the airlines are seeing a financial bump from the flurry of interest in the eclipse, the same can't be said of every industry. Human resources consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated that U.S. employers will lose out on almost $700 million US in productivity on Monday, as employees duck out of work to stare at the skies.

The firm comes up with the figure by estimating that out of 87 million American workers who will be on the clock during the eclipse, each will spend on average about 20 minutes away from work to catch a glimpse of the 2½ minute celestial event. Factoring in the average hourly wage of $23.86 US an hour, the firm calculates roughly $694 million worth of productivity could be lost today.

"That is not to say employers need to board their windows and keep employees locked up in conference room meetings until the eclipse ends," the consultancy said in a press release. "Since this is happening over the lunch hours, the financial impact is minimal."


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