Flying Over the North Pole
It is not often that people have a chance to fly over the North Pole, however a change in flight routes between North America and Asia several years ago now allows for airplanes to cross the North Pole when flying between these two continents.
There were several obstacles previously, however with the ending of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s, routes over Russia became possible. Another obstacle was the language barrier as Russian and Chinese air controllers had to learn English which they did in the early 2000s with the help of Canadian air traffic controllers.
Why would airlines want to fly over the North Pole? The answers are time and money. Between North America and Asia, there is a savings of from two to five hours flying time and thus tens of thousands of dollars in fuel savings.
Enough of the history of this flight route. I will tell you my story of flying over the North Pole on a commercial airliner.
For our Asian vacation we had booked a flight from Toronto to Beijing on Air Canada to leave on March 28 in the mid afternoon. We were told that the flight would be about 12 to 13 hours non-stop as the route would take us over the North Pole, saving us about three hours instead of flying around the globe as done in years previously. Thus I booked a seat by a window, hoping to see the North Pole for the first time.
While we were waiting at our gate at Pearson Airport in Toronto, the announcements for our flight came over the speakers in three languages, Chinese (Mandarin), English and French (Canada's second official language) in that order! There were more Chinese people on our flight than Caucasian type people, thus this flight must be popular with the Chinese.
We were served our dinner shortly leaving Toronto and then they slowly dimmed the lights in the airplane and asked if we could pull down the screens at the windows, inducing us to sleep in darkness.
We were able to follow the route on the TV screen and our route took us over Hudson Bay in northern Canada and it was virtually all snow and ice covered. I did manage to get a couple pictures of Hudson Bay by opening the screen (a few times) to full daylight outside, but closed it quickly as I did not want to flood the airplane with this bright sunlight when most were trying to sleep.
I did manage a few shut-eyes but kept watching the screen to see when we reached the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole area. Again, inside the airplane it was almost complete darkness but I opened the window screen a few times again to full sunlight, took more pictures and again quickly closed the screen to return the airplane to darkness. Surprisenly the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole were only 95% ice covered as there were numerous long cracks and openings in the ice and you could see blue water.
Just as we crossed over the North Pole, the cabin lights slowly came on as to gradually wake us up and then we were served a mid-flight snack consisting of Chinese noodles using chopsticks! The Chinese people loved it and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience! Also sometime around here or over the North Pole we crossed the International Date Line bringing us to the next day, but still daylight outside.
After the snack, the lights again slowly dimmed and people dozed off. I continued to watch the flight route and when we were over Russia, I again opened the window screen and again bright light flooded the airplane, but this time we were over a mountainous area of Russia, with a river and lake in between the mountains.
After this the lights came back on, another meal and then Beijing China. And yes as we landed in Beijing, the entire area was covered in a smog, the normal weather pattern there. It was mid-afternoon, but the next day and we had travelled between 12 to 13 hours in compete daylight. Beijing time is exactly 12 hours ahead of Toronto time or Eastern Standard Time, thus we did not have to change our clocks except that now it was 3:00 PM the next day instead of 3:00 am in Toronto.