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Pilots treat passengers to ‘breathtaking’ views of northern lights




Passengers on two Nordic flights earlier this week got a special surprise viewing of the aurora borealis right outside their windows — and then so did the passengers on the other side.

Pilots on each trip, a Sunday Finnair hop from Kuusamo, Finland, to Helsinki, and a Monday night flight operated by easyJet from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Manchester, England, worked an extra loop into their flight path so no one would miss out on the stunning sight.

They were rewarded with gratitude from passengers, who posted their thanks and green-lit photos on social media. One aviation blog published a post with this headline: “Greatest Pilot Ever Turns Aircraft Around So All Passengers Can See Northern Lights.”

Sarah Hitchen, of Manchester, was returning home from a family holiday in Iceland celebrating her 50th birthday. Despite watching apps for predictability and staying in a small rural town known for its prime aurora-spotting location, she had only seen a “little tiny bit” of the phenomenon during a boat trip.

During their flight home, she said the pilot announced that there would be sightings on the left side of the plane. The plane went into dark mode and passengers grew excited, but Hitchen, who works for an IT company, was on the right.

“On our side there was nothing,” she said. Just when she thought, “Oh no, we’re not going to see them again,” she heard a follow-up announcement.

“He said, ‘Everybody on your right, now you can see it.’” Hitchen recalled. “I’ve never seen anything quite so spectacular. It just went on for ages. During the whole flight down from Iceland to the top ends of Scotland, you could see the lights, just absolutely amazing.”

Ross Sticka, 38, of Derby, England, was on the same flight and said he was on the lookout for lights from the start of the trip.

“Everyone was very excited, even the cabin crew who quickly completed the refreshments service so they could turn off the lights in the cabin for us,” he said. Sticka, who works for an aerospace company, said he didn’t know the plane would do a 360-degree turn, but “everyone really appreciated it.”

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In a statement, easyJet said it was pleased the captain was able to “perform a controlled” maneuver to make the aurora viewing possible.

“Our crew will always go above and beyond for our customers and we’re delighted to have been able to share this special view of the Northern Lights with them,” the statement said.

Finnair spokeswoman Heidi Lemmetyinen said in an email that pilot Tuomo Järvinen made the extra loop above Kuusamo so passengers could get a good look at the lights.

She said such loops are “quite rare” in the airline’s flight operations, and that diversions are usually meant to avoid bad weather.

“When diversions take place, the first priority is always flight safety. We also follow the instructions from air traffic control and consider any factors that might impact on-time performance and cost-effectiveness,” she said. “This time there was enough time for an extra loop, and the flight landed at its destination on time.”

In a Twitter message, Järvinen said he got a lot of feedback from passengers about the experience, noting that many tourists travel to Finland in the hopes of seeing the lights.

“I have been flying for over 20 years and see northern lights every year, but those we saw were something spectacular,” he wrote. “I have never seen such a bright green flaming northern lights which were all around us (except south of course).”

Added Järvinen: “Even for a Finn like me this sight was breathtaking.”

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