Where to Sit on 7 of the Most Scenic US Plane Routes

Jul 7, 2018

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Sometimes it takes being above the fray — 30,000 feet above — to really appreciate the beauty of the United States. From sea to shining sea, this country is dotted with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, from mountains to monuments.

While we’re not suggesting forgoing that family trip to see the Grand Canyon in person, you can often catch a glimpse of some of America’s best views without going there, right from your airplane seat. Even from the worst-legroom seat at the back of the plane, as long as it is a window seat.

There are even apps such as Flyover Country that use scientific maps to tell you all about the points of interest that you’re passing over. All you have to do is plug in your flightpath before you depart; the app works offline, so you don’t have to use up precious Wi-Fi data.

There are, of course, a few major caveats for getting the full experience: You’ll get the best views of most of these sites when flying during the day (although places like Las Vegas can be quite amazing at night). You’ll also want to pick the correct side of the plane, which isn’t always something you can predict ahead of takeoff. And, good weather — the hardest factor to control — is a must.

With luck on your side, here are the seven most scenic plane routes to remind you that they don’t call it “America the Beautiful” for nothing.

1. The Grand Canyon

As we mentioned, there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. But it never hurts to steal a glimpse of the Grand Canyon when you can. There are many routes that can take you over it — from coast-to-coast flights to LAX, to flights into Las Vegas where a seat on the right side of the plane will often give you a great view of much of the Grand Canyon, to a hop from Phoenix to Salt Lake City where a seat on the left side will yield amazing views.  Not only can you see one of America’s greatest landmarks, but the southwest is an incredibly beautiful region in and of itself.

The Grand Canyon from a Delta Boeing 757 descending into Las Vegas (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

2. New York on approach into La Guardia (LGA)

Walking the streets of New York, it’s easy to forget just how big the city is. And the best way to get a sense of the sprawl is from the air. Most flights in and out of LGA guarantee you some version of a view of the Manhattan skyline, depending on the flight path. The left side will yield spectacular views most times, but sitting on the right may be good too. Winds and the runway in use will change, so it’s hard to predict where to sit, but one thing is for sure: Keep your camera or phone ready, day or night, and New York will often dazzle you even before you set foot on the ground.

Manhattan from the air, and a Delta Boeing 737 engine
Manhattan from the air, and the left engine of a Delta Boeing 737 (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
Downtown Manhattan from the air (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
Downtown Manhattan from the air, also from the left side of the plane (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
Central Park (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
Central Park, from the right side of the plane on approach to LGA (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

3. Niagara Falls: Albany (ALB) to Chicago (ORD or MDW)

We know what you’re thinking: Albany?! Okay, the capital of the great state of New York may not be a renowned destination, but think of Albany as a means to an end: getting a bird’s eye view of Niagara Falls. Get you to the left side of the plane and take in the majesty of the falls, minus all the tourists. On a clear day the view will rival that of the suckers below you who shelled out for a pricey helicopter ride. This works with flights into either Chicago’s O’Hare airport (ORD) or Midway (MDW).

Niagara Falls at dusk - Canada from airplane window seat. (Photo by LeoPatrizi/Getty Images)
Niagara Falls at dusk. (Photo by LeoPatrizi/Getty Images)

4. Golden Gate Bridge: Flights into San Francisco (SFO)

San Francisco: So much to do, so little time. And in case you miss the chance to check out the Golden Gate Bridge in person, you can catch it on the way into town. On many flights arriving from Asia or Europe or from points north of the city, a seat on the left side is a good bet for a great view of the bridge and city. You may not get the insanely close look that TPG‘s Zach Honig saw last year when the last flight on a United 747 overflew the bridge at a especially low altitude, but it will be a view to remember anyway.

5. Yosemite: Sacramento (SMF) to Las Vegas (LAS)

Yosemite National Park on the lower left and Mono lake on lower right. (Photo by Spondylolithesis / Getty Images)
Yosemite National Park on the lower left and Mono lake on lower right. (Photo by Spondylolithesis / Getty Images)

Before your journey across the desert, a flyover of California’s Yosemite National Park will send you off in style. Sit on the right, keep your eyes peeled for the notable Half Dome. Can’t make the flight during the day? You’ll always have the twinkling view of Vegas at night as a silver lining.

6. The Nation’s Capital: Landing at Washington National (DCA)

Again, the left side is a good bet when landing at Reagan National. If you’re lucky and your pilots are flying the so-called River Visual, a winding approach over the Potomac that ends in a southbound landing at DCA, you’ll see the Washington Monument and Thomas Jefferson Memorial, among other famous sights, like the passengers on this American Airlines regional jet photographed in April 2018 did.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 24, 2018: An American Airlines jet lands at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Monument and Thomas Jefferson Memorial in the background. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

And if you’re sitting on the right side, landing in the opposite direction — which happens when the winds blow from the north — you can still get a pretty good glimpse of the Capitol, as happened to the passengers of this United flight in a 2011 file image.

ALEXANDRIA, VA MARCH 28: Seen from Alexandria, VA a commercial airline plane appears to fly over the United States Capitol on its way to land at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC on Monday 03/28/2011. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

7. The Volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest: Taking off or landing in Seattle (SEA)

The amount of volcanic beauty packed into the Pacific Northwest is unparalleled elsewhere in the US. You’ve got Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Baker at your fingertips, so close it feels like you could touch them, reminding you of your place on this earth. Snag a seat on the right side of the aircraft on takeoff, hope that the winds are right and departures are to the north, and be in awe. On landing into Seattle, the left side is often the better choice instead.

Mt Rainier and Mt St Helens behind it (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)
Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens behind it (Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy)

Feature image by SteveDF via Getty Images.

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