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25 Incredible Views From Plane Passengers’ Windows, Collected By an Airline Pilot

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The view from a Quantum 912 Microlight over York Flying Club airfield, September 2015. (Photo: Aaron Shearer)

When I decided to write a book about my job as an airline pilot, I knew one thing for certain. I knew I’d start the book with an invitation for readers to send me their own favorite photographs from the window seat.

This was important to me for a couple of reasons. One of the pleasures of being an airline pilot is the chance to interact with individual travelers. I find myself talking with passengers in airport terminals (people often chat to crew in elevators, I’ve noticed), on rental car shuttles, and of course on the airplane itself.

But the fact is, with 300 or more passengers on a Boeing 747, we pilots aren’t able to personally connect with as many travelers as we’d like. The photos that readers send me and the stories of important journeys that often accompany the photos–about the vacation of a lifetime, or the long years during which a reader lived overseas, or a flight home after the death of a parent–are deeply moving to see and read.

Since my book, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, was published this past spring, I’ve received hundreds of photos and stories. They’ve been the most rewarding part of the book’s publication, and they’ve broadened my understanding of the galaxy of reasons that people decide to fly across the world. In honor of the busy Thanksgiving travel week ahead, I’ve selected some of my favorite photos snapped by passengers on a plane.

Wisconsin with fall foliage, from a Cessna 182. (Photo: Alan Josephsen)

I had another motive in asking readers to send in their favorite photographs: the window seat on an airplane is a pretty remarkable place. The most extraordinary things pass across that pane: icy peaks, shining oceans, and tawny waves of deserts rolling to the horizon; archipelagos of cloud, the Northern lights, and perhaps my favorite sight–cities at night, the illuminated creases and wrinkles of civilization on the sleeping face of the world.

In short, the window seat shows us a world that we’d never otherwise see, and that’s true of my inbox now, as well. The photos that readers have sent me have uncovered many places and phenomena that I’ve never seen myself, in all my years in the cockpit.

I’d love to see your photos, too, so please be in touch. And if you’re flying during this busy travel week, just put on your headphones, lift the window shade and ponder Louis C.K.’s classic summary of the miracle of flight: “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky. You’re like a Greek myth right now.”

Mount Blanc, seen from a flight between Nice and Frankfurt in April 2012. (Photo: Craig Parsons)

Sunrise from a flight between Chennai and Kolkata, in February 2015. (Photo: Sandhya Shekar)

A volcano out the window of a helicopter, from Rotorua, New Zealand, to White Island. The shadow of the rotor is evident at the upper right corner of the frame. (Photo: Alex Kramer)

Approaching the runway at Kilimanjaro International Airport in 2010. (Photo: Juliana Hinch)

Hong Kong harbor from on board a Cathay Pacific flight in 2015. (Photo: Susmith Gopalan)

A full moon rises over the wing of a flight between Stockholm and London. (Photo: David Spreadbury)

Approaching San Francisco in the sunshine, in August 2014. (Photo: Mila Gergova)

An ice-cap in Greenland, seen from a 767 en-route to Vancouver. (Photo: Graham Light)

Clouds, mountains and other aircraft: an early morning arrival into Santiago de Chile. (Photo: Andreas Symietz)

A spring morning over London. (Photo: Mark Vanhoenacker)

Grids of fields in Minnesota, spied on a flight between Nebraska and Baltimore. (Photo: Trevor James)

Looking out the window at The Columbia Gorge and Mt Adams. (Photo: Donella Russell)

Flying to Bagram, Afghanistan, from Dubai. (Photo: Jeanie Gaudette)

A noctilucent cloud seen from a British Airways 747, homeward bound to London from the US. (Photo: Richard Bennitt)

A view of the Himalayas from a Buddha Air propeller aircraft. (Photo: Laura Schwecherl)

Winter beauty seen from a flight over the St Lawrence Bay and River, in January 2014. (Photo: Gisela Rochelle)

The view from the back window of a Cessna 182 while training over Southern England. (Photo: Richard Evans) 

The Alaskan landscape viewed from the passenger seat of a seaplane. (Photo: Edward L. Applebaum)

Clear skies after sunrise: approaching Los Angeles in early summer. (Photo: Travis Henry)

Flying over Nepal in 1994, in a high wing turbo propeller plan, with a view towards Mount Everest. (Photo: Clive Garrard) 

Snowy scenes from a Bombardier Q400 turbo-prop airliner traveling to Toronto. (Photo: Anne Kelly)

Looking out the window of a Douglas DC6 on a transcontinental flight in April 1963. (Photo: Ron Gabel)

A lake spotted on a flight from Moscow to the United States, in the frozen landscape of Greenland. (Photo: Shreenand Sadhale)

Mark Vanhoehacker’s book Skyfaring