Delta eclipse flight from Dallas veered off path of totality

A special eclipse flight operated by Delta Air Lines on Monday deviated from the path of totality, the airline confirmed, causing passengers to miss a prime view of the moon completely obstructing the sun.

Delta told The Washington Post on Friday that air traffic controllers would not allow the plane traveling from Dallas to Detroit to make the turns it had planned to accommodate both sides of the plane.

The flight was slightly off-set from the path of totality, Delta said, as air traffic control managed severe congestion and a flood of special maneuver requests along the path of the eclipse. While another Delta flight from Austin was permitted to climb to the right altitude to complete a maneuver called an S-curve, the airline said the Dallas flight was not.

The Federal Aviation Administration did not comment on the Delta flight’s path specifically, but said that the agency was focused on safety as jets and noncommercial planes filled the air to view the eclipse above the clouds. The FAA had previously warned about congestion and possible impacts to air traffic.

“Our first goal and our top priority is always the safety of flights,” said FAA spokesman Chris Mullooly. “We knew that there were going to be possible impacts to some of the traffic.”

Instead of its planned maneuvers, Delta’s Airbus A321neo flew in a circle to give both sides a look from 33,000 feet. But passengers didn’t get the view they expected.

“I kind of immediately suspected the positioning was off,” said passenger Dimitrije Ratkov, who raised the possibility the flight missed totality to The Post on Thursday. “I knew something had gone wrong, but wasn’t sure what.”

Delta had warned about such a possibility, even as passengers paid more than $1,000 in some cases for a seat. For both the Dallas and Austin flights, the airline included this disclaimer: “While Delta flight plans have been designed to maximize time within the path of totality, this is subject to change due to factors outside of Delta’s control such as weather and air traffic control that could impact timing and aircraft.”

delta eclipse flight from dallas veered off path of totality

Delta eclipse flight from Dallas veered off path of totality

On board flight 1010, passengers — including this reporter, who paid nearly $850 for a refundable ticket — craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the sun. “Can you see it?” turned into “Did you see it?” as the plane turned. The sky and ground grew darker, but glimpses of the sun were brief.

Several people captured photos of the sun partially blocked by the moon, later showing off thumbnails of glowing orange. They chalked the difficulty up to the tricky angle of the sun high above, speed of the plane and confines of the aircraft.

While the flight was full of media, the movement outside the prime eclipse path was not discovered until Ratkov, a PhD student in virology at Mayo Clinic, compared the path of the flight to that of the eclipse using a flight-tracking site and NASA’s eclipse map. He posted his videos on YouTube and sent emails to reporters with the subject line: “Dallas Eclipse Flight Made Wrong Turn and Exited Path of Totality.”

Delta did not confirm the accuracy of Ratkov’s video, but acknowledged after looking into questions from The Post that the plane went out of the path of totality. Flight-tracking sites Flightradar24 and FlightAware show the plane making the circle southeast of Jonesboro, Ark.

delta eclipse flight from dallas veered off path of totality

A passenger looks through a gift bag for a path-of-totality Delta Airlines flight from Dallas to Detroit. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The first flight Delta announced for the eclipse, from Austin, appeared on Flightradar24 to stay within the path. Photos from that flight clearly showed darker skies and the sun blocking the moon, though Detroit Free Press photographer Eric Seals wrote on Instagram that even that was “very hard to photograph.”

Many passengers on the Dallas flight told The Post on Monday that while they were disappointed they didn’t have a better vantage point, they enjoyed the experience anyway. The airline threw parties before takeoff and after landing, and placed bags full of special socks, hats, snacks and other trinkets on seats.

The flight’s captain told The Post on Monday that those on the left side of the plane probably had the best view, and said the flight got a little over three minutes to view totality. He told USA Today: “It was great. It really went off without a hitch.”

Kyle Carter, a private pilot and stay-at-home dad from Orlando, said Monday that he was happy to have seen the moon’s shadow racing toward the plane from behind. He said Friday that, as a pilot, he understood in advance that several factors could make the experience less than ideal.

“I would still do it again,” he said. “I went into it with that kind of background knowledge. It was not a sure thing to me that we were going to see it.”

Ratkov, who paid just over $1,100 for a refundable ticket, said he started traveling from Minnesota early Sunday morning, slept that night at the airport in Dallas and made it home around 6 a.m. Tuesday. He said the mood in his row was chatty and upbeat leading up to totality, but downcast afterward.

After the airline put out a celebratory news release and much coverage was positive, he said he wanted the record about the flight to be corrected and for Delta to provide an explanation for what happened.

“It was a major disappointment,” and a big financial investment, he said. “It had been obviously promoted as the second eclipse flight.”

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