View from a window — an airplane window


The New York Times recently published an article about a pilot who loved to fly and even when not flying would always take a window seat so that he could see the view. Now that is passion and a love of flying that is commendable.

I have to agree that sometimes a window seat is a wonderful and beautiful thing. For the most part, I am an aisle seat person when I can score one, and better yet, an exit row traveler when the stars aligned. Both types of seats aren’t of much use when viewing the sky panorama and the changing landscapes. However, on some flights I make an effort to sit by the window so that I can check out the view.

Capt. VanHoenacker claimed his favorite view was of London on an over-the-city approach into Heathrow. He also liked landing at LAX and SFO. LaGuardia was also singled out for its impressive views of New York City.

My favorites are different. I had a chance to fly over London last month and spot Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, St. Paul’s and the Millenium Wheel. It was delightful. However, I find other views far more inspiring.

Here are five of my favorites:

Flying over the Alps on a clear day. The mountain peaks are always snow-capped and spectacular and the lakes nestled in the valleys are as beautiful from the air as they are when strolling beside them. Plus, since I write about ski resorts, I always have fun guessing which valley is where and whether the resort beneath me is St. Anton or Davos. (Pretty amazing shot out of the plane window. This is the picture with no Photoshop and no filters.)

Landing to the north in Venice. This approach brings passengers sitting on the right hand side of the plane almost over the city with its warren of canals, palazzi, campos and gelaterias. It is easy to pick out St. Marks, Santa Maria della Salute, the train station and see the fish shape of the city from the air.

Take off to the north or landing to the south at Reagan-National in Washington, DC. On take-off sit on the right hand side of the plane and for landing get a left-hand window. The view as the plane glides past the television towers, the National Cathedral, then the Watergate Complex, the Kennedy Center, the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial is as good as it gets on a clear day. Even at night, with the buildings lit up, the view is delicious.

Landing to the south at Newark. Sit on the left-hand side of the plane and hope for a clear day. The landing approach takes the plane right to the western shore of the Hudson River. The George Washington Bridge, Columbia, Central Park, mid-town, the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village and Battery Park all slide by. Landing at sunset is a treat, with the entire city glistening a sparkling golden yellow in the end-of-day light.

Flying to the east of Sydney, Australia, making an approach to the airport. If you are lucky and sitting on the right-hand side of the plane, an early morning landing on a clear day is wonderful. In the distance, the highrise buildings of Sydney clearly show the city center and make the white Opera House and Harbor Bridge easy to find. The mouth of Sydney Harbor is flanked by Manly and Watson’s Bay, then the plane passes Bondi Beach before turning west to final approach at the airport.

Landing at Madrid, Spain. For me the beauty here is not the city or any manmade structures. I love the change of colors from almost black to dark reds to straw yellows to burnt sienna. Those changing colors and the shifting landscape from orchards to spreading fields and from river-cut ravines to dramatic plateaus is always captivating.

I’ve heard that landing in Rio is beautiful. I know the landing at Medellin, Columbia, is exciting as the plane passes between mountain peaks. I don’t remember my landings in Singapore, Bali, Phuket, Hong Kong or Bangkok. The approach to Geneva is always a treat and Frankfurt is forgettable.

What are some of your favorite views from an airline window?

Photos: Alps by Karen Cummings. Venice by Charles Leocha. Newark by Washington, DC, by

  • Julie

    Love flying over the Canadian Rockies on a clear day

  • SirWired

    Which side of the plane should I sit on, landing in Venice? I’m going in September, and would love this information!


  • Charlie Leocha

    For the Venice view, sit on the right hand side of the plane. I just added that to the story.

  • dcta

    For short hops, I like an aisle.

    For the deep Caribbean (well past the Bahamas) I like a window – I love passing over those deserted “islets” – also flying into Honolulu – window on the right. A window for sure on a daylight flight from east coast to west coast.

    I live in DC – on Capital Hill actually – so I love coming home in a window seat…every once in a while I can actually pick out my house, just have to spot the Dome first…

  • Graham

    I’m a fan of the approach to London but then I lived there for 30 years and in one of the satellite towns for another 30 so I know my way around and can pick out not just the landmarks but many of the day to day street patterns.

    San Franciso when they’re landing up the bay from the San Jose/San Mateo direction. Sit on the left and watch all the peninsular towns slide past. Coming from London you often seem to come over Point Reyes then the city down the peninsular then back up to land. Love it.

    Before 9/11 I did an approach to Orly (Paris) in the cockpit early one morning and had beatiful views over the city. Kai Tak always used to be fun when coming in over Kowloon.

    Any mountain range.

    I enjoy looking down on the icy wastes of Greenland.

    I find the circular fields in the US Praries fascinating.

  • Frank
  • Elle Emme

    I love the Willamette approach to PDX, over all the bridges and downtown…

  • MeanMeosh

    My favorite approach is the one to Las Vegas when flying in from Dallas (though you’ll probably get a similar approach from anywhere south and east of Albuquerque). As you descend into Vegas, you go through the western end of the Grand Canyon. On a clear day, you can see all the way down to the bottom.

    Any flight going over the Rockies is really nice on a clear day, too.

  • Steve Surjaputra

    I always try to get window seat when I fly. Even though I usuasly fly the same routes (Los Angeles to Las Vegas or New York), I still enjoy looking out at the scenery.

  • Oregoncarol

    My late husband traveled often for work and took a small atlas with him so he plotted the route as he flew back and forth across the US, I still have those maps marked with all the dashes from those trips and I can see him in my mind peering out the plane windows, enthralled by the changing view below, looking for landmarks, natural or man-made.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    A few weeks ago, I was flying back from SLC to PHX during the day and sitting in a window seat so I was able to see the Grand Canyon.

  • Christine Perkins

    The landing and takeoff in Rio is spectacular, but only from the domestic airport. I don’t really remember anything spectacular about landing at the far out international airport. Also, flying into and out of Santiago. You have the ocean on one side and the Andes on the other. Especially if you are flying south over the lakes region.

  • david

    I agree with Graham that Kai Tak / Hong Kong was fun. Mauritius is beautiful from the air.

  • Carrie Charney

    Like Arizona Road Warrior, and because I’ve motored there on both rims, I was very impressed with a higher-than-bird’s-eye view of the vast Grand Canyon. The pools of Yellowstone looked eerie from above. Niagara Falls is less grand from 30,000 feet than from the ground, but interesting in perspective. I like the Columbia River Gorge approach to Portland and take it often. My dilemma is in deciding which mountains I want to see on either side of the plane. I just love the window seat, but I hate having to disturb folks to get to the lav.

  • Phil

    I prefer to have a window seat. One special view I recall was flying from Delhi to O’Hare and going over ice-covered Siberia with miles and miles of snow and winding areas of frozen river. Unfortunately, I have found during the last couple of years that it is more difficult to view from a window seat. Repeatedly I have been ordered, not just requested, by flight attendants to close the window cover so that others can watch a movie (and leave the attendant alone?).

  • Carrie Charney

    I just want to add that I miss the days when pilots announced the landmarks and big cities as we progressed to our destination. I often wonder what I’m actually looking down at.

  • Brenda

    I’ve had the privilege of seeing many unforgettable views from a window. My all time favorite was flying over Iceland and Greenland on a clear day and seeing icebergs calving and the ice sheet breaking up. At first I thought, “What are those blue circles with white centers floating in the ocean?” Then it occurred to me that they were newly calved icebergs. Another beautiful view is flying over Niagara Falls with Lake Erie on one side and Lake Ontario on the other. That is one that the pilot did announce. The Badlands is another view that you will never forget. Flying into Shannon over the green fields of Ireland brings tears to my eyes…especially on a sunny morning.

  • Jane

    I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles and never tire of a window seat. I love flying coast to coast either at daytime or at night looking at the lights.

    The most important flight for a window seat, in my experience, is flying up to Anchorage. You must sit on the land side of the plane; otherwise all you see is water. If you are lucky enough to get a midnight flight out of Anchorage, you will have a magnificent view of the Canadian Rockies with possibly some Northern Lights in the background.

    That said, I live in DC and a night landing still moves me to tears.

  • kenish

    On a Seoul-Hong Kong flight I saw a vast area of lights. I thought we were over water. Fortunately one of the flight crew came down the aisle…he chuckled when I asked what city was below. He explained it was hundreds of squid and shrimp fishing boats that use bright lights to attract them to the surface.

    Over the Australian Outback- The desolate red landscape looks like NASA photos of Mars…..departing SYD to the north and seeing the city on the right side…..LA is one of the world’s best night skylines….and nothing yet beats the old Hong Kong/Kai Tak airport!

  • Ed

    One of the most impressive views flying over was a red-eye flight out of Las Vegas. The pilot gave us a bit of a thrill one night and dipped the wing on both sides of the plane to give the passengers a spectacular view of the shining diamond of Las Vegas at night in the middle of a big dark desert. Spiraled several times over the strip and then over Freemont street! Wonderful!

  • Ed

    I have to add another….
    My favorite view from an airplane window is Flying into the airport on Oahu at mid day…mainly because I so love going to Hawaii!

  • The Good Doctor

    Northbound of out OAK gives you a great view of SF and the Marin Peninsula (portside windows), and on a clear view you can see the Farralones. You may get a similar view flying out of SFO but you gotta look straight down. ANC is great if you like mountains and glaciers, and landing at BCN provides a fantastic harbor view from the starboard side. Inbound to LGA presents great portside views of Manhattan, and takeoffs from BOS give you a nice view of the Harbor Islands and Cape Cod. But my favorite remains the portside view landing at DCA (southbound) — the panorama of Georgetown University, the monuments, and the Mall lets me know I’m home.

  • AB Khalid

    It’s always lovely ot have such penoromic scenes while sitting in plane, but unfortunately I often don’t get manage to capture these beauties of nature.

  • PauletteB

    My husband and I were leaving our Bermuda honeymoon in late afternoon. The islands were silhouetted against the ocean with the sun just slipping below the horizon with fingers of molten gold. Although the husband (thankfully) is long gone, I still have that picture on my wall to remind me of one of my favorite places.

  • Meg

    Anywhere in Norway…. My favorite was the Oslo – Bergen flight. It wouldn’t matter what side of the plane you were on, the fjords looked beautiful from all views.

  • mr

    the Times has a purpose-built digital feature of all the window seat pics submitted by readers-

  • Nature

    Can anyone tell me if you go thru Emirates to SFO and fly over Africa, would you be able to get some good view?