Jon Carmichael - Solar Eclipse From Plane
Credit: Jon Carmichael

It feels odd to remember that around this time last year, seemingly everybody in the country was wearing funny paper glasses and staring up at the sky to witness the Great American Eclipse.

To celebrate the one year anniversary of the astronomical event, photographer Jon Carmichael posted an incredible snapshot he achieved while on board a Southwest Airlines flight last year. But the shot almost didn’t happen.

Carmichael spent months planning to get on a flight to get his epic bird’s eye view of the eclipse. He entered an Alaska Airlines contest for a spot on a flight. He did not win.

So, just a few days before the eclipse, Carmichael booked a last-minute Southwest Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri that would follow the eclipse as it crossed the country. He arrived at the airport with $600 in cash. Aware that Southwest Airline’s open seating policy could keep him from sitting near the window, he was prepared to bribe his way there.

But after explaining his mission to Southwest crew, they reserved him the optimal seat of 1A. Pilots even left the plane to clean Carmichael’s window so residue and dirt wouldn’t ruin the shot. Once in the air, pilots turned the plane around several times (with FAA approval) to allow Carmichael multiple shots of the eclipse.

Carmichael said that witnessing the eclipse from a plane changed his perspective on life. “What I love about astronomy is that it’s not partial to borders or politics or race or religion,” Carmichael told Travel + Leisure. “For me, it’s very therapeutic. I love that in a time when our country is so divided, the moon’s shadow can just cut over borders, it doesn’t need any permission. It makes you think about the concept of borders. They’re just imaginary lines.”

He spent the next year editing, re-editing and stitching together a photo mosaic of more than 1,000 images taken as his flight passed along totality.

“My dream was to capture this fleeting moment from a unique perspective to remind us of our place in the universe and to stay united in our humanity,” Carmichael wrote on Instagram.

“The whole story is really amazing. From the pilots literally learning Jon’s story just before boarding, to them going to the lengths of washing his window before flight to help him capture the best possible shot, just really speaks to what our employees will do to make a memorable experience for our customers,” Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew told USA Today. “No one could have anticipated Jon capturing such an amazing photo. We’re excited to have played a small part in bringing his dream to life, all at 39,000 feet.”

As for the next American total solar eclipse (happening April 8, 2024), Carmichael does not have any plans to repeat his photographic feat. “I will probably be on the ground, basking in nature and the present moment, and that’s what I encourage everyone to do,” he told T+L. “Don’t take out your cellphone to try to get a picture. I already took the photo for you. I really want this image to inspire others to travel to totality. It’s the most unbelievable, indescribable thing you can ever experience. I hope the next eclipse will help people come together again and that even more people will come together.”

Carmichael’s photograph is now on display at Twitter’s New York City headquarters and will remain there at least through Sept. 9.

Poster-sized prints of the photograph are available on Carmichael’s website for $108.