Don’t opt for the aisle seat for these commercial flights, where you’ll fly over ice caps, rainforests, and island-studded tropical waters.
You don’t need to hire a private jet or book a helicopter ride to enjoy a birds-eye view of some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes.
For frequent travelers, time spent in the air is often used to catch up on work, listen to podcasts, or take a much-needed nap. However, many commercial flights offer a good reason to keep your window shades open while flying over mountains, glaciers, jungles, and deserts.
Although pilots occasionally deviate due to unusual weather or a busy flight path, commercial flights generally follow a standard route, irrespective of which airline they’re run by. This predictability means a number of commercial flights have become well-known for their show-stopping vistas, or for flying over natural landmarks such as The Grand Canyon or the Swiss Alps.
We’ve researched some of the best commercial flights to book if you’re looking for an impressive birds-eye view. Cross your fingers for good weather, and don’t forget to select a window seat!
Auckland to Queenstown, New Zealand
The flight from New Zealand’s largest city to the scenic southern town of Queenstown is an incredible journey, giving travelers a little taste of all that New Zealand as to offer.
The flight path takes you over the rolling hills and lush forests of the North Island, before crossing the Cook Strait — the rough sea that divides the country’s two islands.
The flight path follows the Southern Alps down the South Island, where you can spot glaciers, powdery mountaintops, and rugged craggy ranges. Queenstown has one of the world’s most scenic airport approaches, which sees you flying down over turquoise lakes and rivers, with a stunning view of The Remarkables mountain range.
What you’ll see: The Cook Strait, Lake Tekapo, The Southern Alps, The Remarkables
Flight time: 1hr 50mins | Seat to book: Left-hand side for the best mountain views.
Dallas to San Francisco, U.S.
Take an aerial road trip through the southwestern states, with one of the most scenic commercial flight paths in the U.S.
After the plane has cleared Dallas’ urban sprawl, you’ll pass over the plains of northwest Texas to the “Four Corners”, the spot where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. Enjoy epic views of the Rocky Mountains at Southern Utah, before crossing into California.
As the plane starts its slow descent, it passes through Yosemite National Park. Hope for clear weather, so you can make out Half Dome, backed by waterfalls and gorges. Depending on your exact entry path, you may get lucky with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay area.
What you’ll see: The Texas Panhandle, the “Four Corners”, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite National Park, Half Dome, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Area.
Flight time: 3hrs 50mins | Seat to book: Right-hand side for views of Yosemite and Half-Dome.
Albuquerque to Las Vegas, U.S.
This is the best route to fly if you’re hoping for a glimpse of America’s most famous natural attraction – The Grand Canyon.
The most dramatic views begin about two-thirds of the way into the journey, as you enter the aerial space above Grand Canyon National Park. No need to keep your eyes peeled, as the Canyon itself is unmissable.
The high-altitude view allows you to truly appreciate its scale, and the canyon’s sculptural red-rock surrounds offer a breathtaking sight in their own right. During your descent, you can spot Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam, and the glittering Las Vegas Strip.
What you’ll see: The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, The Las Vegas Strip.
Flight time: 3hrs 50mins | Seat to book: Right-hand side for canyon views.
Vancouver to Whitehorse, Canada
Vancouver to Whitehorse is an incredible journey by air, following the northernmost section of the Rocky Mountains.
The flight path takes you up the length of British Columbia and into Yukon – Canada’s smallest federal territory. Leaving Vancouver, the landscapes are lush and green, turning white and grey as you enter the aerial space above the Rockies. The Canadian high country is spectacular, with white peaks, ice caps, and glaciers.
What you’ll see: The Northern Rockies, Yukon
Flight time: 2hrs 20mins | Seat to book: Right or left, the scenery is beautiful from all angles.
Hong Kong to Malé, Maldives
If you’re flying from Hong Kong to Malé, book a daytime flight so you can enjoy crystal blue waters and island views from the air.
Soon after take-off, the flight path takes you over Hainan Island, before cruising over the green jungles of Central Thailand. Half-way into your journey the scenery will change from lush greenery to the flawlessly clear waters of the bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Try your hand spotting each of the 800 islands of the Mergui Archipelago. The island views continue as you fly over Sri Lanka, before landing in the Maldive capital.
What you’ll see: Hainan Island, Mergui Archipelago, The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka
Flight time: 6hrs 50mins | Seat to book: Left hand side, for optimum island spotting.
Santiago to Puntas Arenas, Chile
Discover wild and remote Patagonia, by flying commercial between the Chilean capital of Santiago and the southern city of Puntas Arenas.
This flight takes you over one of the world’s most vast and dramatic alpine ranges – the mighty Andes Mountains. Cross your fingers for clear flying conditions, and you’ll get a birds-eye view of the world’s third-largest ice field (after Antarctica and Greenland), which is home to the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier. As you descend into Puntas Arenas you’ll pass the edge of Southern Patagonian Fjordlands, where the rugged mountain ranges meet ice blue waters.
What you’ll see: The Andes Mountains, the Southern Patagonian ice-field and Fjordlands.
Flight time: 3hrs 25mins | Seat to book: Left-hand side, for the mightiest of mountain views.
Mexico City to Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Appreciate the sheer size of North America’s largest city by flying south out of Mexico City to the Oaxaca coast.
With 8.8 million residents, Mexico City is a sight to behold from above. It feels as if the urban sprawl will never end, until you trade in signs of humanity for the diverse landscapes of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. You’ll pass over desertous scrublands, squint and see if you can spot any agave fields, before clearing Mexico’s southern mountain ranges and highlands. Puerto Escondido International Airport is located beachside so if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of Mexico’s wild Pacific coastline before touchdown.
What you’ll see: The urban sprawl of Mexico City, the deserts and highlands of Oaxaca.
Flight time: 1hr 15mins | Seat to book: Take your pick, left or right. The views are excellent from both sides.
Zurich, Switzerland, to Naples, Italy
Flying between Switzerland’s largest city and Italy’s food capital is surprisingly exciting, considering the short flight time.
The Swiss Alps are a glorious sight from above, and the first part of this flight is a sure-fire showstopper as you cruise over their perfect, powdery peaks. While there is not much to see from the air across central Italy, make sure you’re alert as the plane makes its descent. Depending on the angle of descent, which is down to traffic and weather conditions, you may be able to spot Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, and the Islands of Capri. Pick a window seat and hope for the best.
What you’ll see: The Swiss Alps, Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius, the Islands of Capri.
Flight time: 1hr 45mins Where to book: It’s a gamble, but your chances may be slightly better on the right-hand side.
Los Angeles or San Francisco, USA, to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, UAE
If you’re cursed to spend 16 hours on a plane, then the silver lining is a birds views-eye view of the North Pole.
If you’re taking a long-haul flight from North America to Asia or the Middle East, the chances are your plane will be taking the “polar route”. Instead of flying West over the Pacific Ocean, planes taking the polar route head North, cruising over Greenland and the Arctic Circle.
Planes will often fly at a lower altitude to avoid fuel from freezing, so you’ll be up close and personal with the polar region’s vast, icy landscapes. Pick your flight time wisely, so you’re passing through during daylight hours.
What you’ll see: Ice, ice, and more ice.
Flight time: 15hrs 50mins | Where to book: Left or right, take your pick. The ice stretches in all directions.