Travel On board the Yukon’s first northern lights flight

09:23  06 december  2017
09:23  06 december  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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If the first flight is with Air North , Yukon ' s Airline, its baggage allowances and fees will apply through to the final domestic destination. However, neither airline can issue boarding passes for the other.

Night #2: I board the bus again and head out into the dark Yukon wilderness. It’ s my last night in the Yukon and I just know I’m going to witness it. I am not leaving Canada until I’ve seen my first Northern Lights !


Air North captain Dan Kenny, left, and first officer Daniel Hartman flew the plane for the inaugural aurora borealis flight. They're both from Whitehorse.© Neil Zeller Air North captain Dan Kenny, left, and first officer Daniel Hartman flew the plane for the inaugural aurora borealis flight. They're both from Whitehorse.

WHITEHORSE, YUKON-Sure, it’s a fine thing watching the aurora borealis from the ground, slack-jawed and staring heavenward. It’s quite another charging straight toward it in a B737 jet at 36,000 feet with your nose pressed to the window as the almighty thing hangs there, a great fiery green curtain, fluttering as if on an invisible line.

It’s tricky, the aurora.

Subject to solar wind variances and weather conditions that can obscure your view, it teases the eyes and even the ears — some say you can hear its ghostly chatter. Folklore has it being a harbinger of war or a glimpse into the spiritual world of ancestors or the mysterious dance of animal spirits. Famous yet fickle, it invites a good chase.

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Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board . Air North , the Yukon Astronomical Society and the Government of Yukon are partnering to bring a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the northern lights (aurora borealis) from a private, chartered flight .

Viewing the aurora in an aircraft is a high-flying bucket list adventure that we got to experience in the Yukon .

The Air North “Aurora 360” chartered flight that just soared far above pesky clouds at $950 per seat was the best shot for the 90 people aboard to get face to face with the northern lights. Seventy-three paying guests were joined by 17 media and dignitaries.

If all the world’s a stage for viewing the colorful collision of gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with particles released from the sun’s atmosphere, this was the nearest thing to a backstage pass.

Partners Air North, the Yukon Astronomical Society and the Yukon government created a high-flying experience specifically for aurora viewing, a first in North America on Nov. 25 when the flight of more than three hours began and ended at the Whitehorse airport.

Air North will analyze data and feedback from this inaugural flight to determine if it will provide more of them.

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“The difference between watching the aurora from the ground and taking a flight like this is that we go into the stratosphere, far above the clouds and humidity and dust that could potentially block your view,” said Anthony Gucciardo, a founder of the Yukon Astronomical Society, who helped to plan the trip.

“At 700 kilometres an hour we’re keeping pace with the rotation of the earth, which makes for good photography — and a lot of people on the flight have cameras.”

It started with pre-flight cultural entertainment and eats at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in downtown Whitehorse.

There were mountains of food set up at stations by participating chefs — tuna and elk piled high. Dramatic lighting on the walls spelled “YUKON Larger Than Life.”

Roxy Engle of Vancouver, wearing a fur coat and a pair of blinking red antlers on her head, couldn’t wait to get aboard. “I lived many years in the Arctic watching the aurora and I know this flight will be fantastic.”

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We rode in buses right up to the aircraft, guided by orange batons held aloft by a ground crew member. As passengers climbed the stairs into the cabin, cold gusts of air gave way to giddy warmth. People shed their coats and fiddled with their cameras, huddling near the windows and chatting excitedly.

For the first five minutes, it was like a normal red-eye flight, black outside with scraps of conversation heard over the white noise of the aircraft.

Within half an hour, pilot captain Dan Kenny said over the cabin speakers: “We’re getting a bit of a show here on the left.” A few passengers shouted at others to turn off any lights as they strained to look out the windows.

Even so, now and again faces were lit by the eerie green of LED ice cubes as passengers sipped themed Aurora 360 gin-based cocktails created by onboard mixologist Grant Sceney from the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver.

Soon, Gucciardo was acting as a guide in the jump seat near the cockpit and the area usually staffed by flight attendants become a kind of astronomy salon.

“We knew what time (the aurora) would come so we’re flying right into it, then we’ll turn around a bit and chase it,” he said.

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Hop on board a helicopter and enjoy a 25 munute flight taking inisights such as Miles Canyon, Mount Granger and Fish Lake. From £3660pp. Northern Lights in the Yukon .

The company’s seven-day Classic Voyage North trip costs £689pp, full- board , excluding flights . Boffins wanting to learn more about the science behind the lights should head to the first ever For long-haul aurora hunting, the Yukon in north -west Canada is among the best bets. The Northern Lights Resort and Spa near the city of Whitehorse has a new seven-day Best of Yukon ’ s Aurora trip

Adjustments had been made to ensure people could see the aurora and photograph it in the best possible conditions. Cabin lights were dimmed, as were the lights on the aircraft’s wingtips. Cowling above cabin windows helped to block extraneous light.

At times, it was like a touring wilderness bus, people jostling for position. There was a collective anxiety to get the perfect view and snap a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

While there was assigned seating, the windows were prime real estate. “Oh, am I taking your spot?” asked one guy who’d slid into a temporarily empty window seat.

“Yeah, I’ve never seen the northern lights,” said the seat owner, as they quickly switched.

Passengers were generally cooperative and everyone gained the barbed treasure sought by so many travelers — bragging rights.

Of course, not everyone can take an aurora viewing flight. On the ground in Whitehorse, there are lodges and inns (such as Inn On the Lake at nearby Marsh Lake) that have prime “dark skies” locations where aurora viewing is a feature.

Arctic Range Adventure is one of the guiding outfits offering tours, featuring stove-heated yurts 20 minutes outside of town.

Yukon sees a bright future for aurora tourism as it innovates with products including the Aurora 360 flight, said Air North chief commercial officer Benjamin Ryan, who acknowledged the region faces competition from other destinations.

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Find your ideal Northern Lights holiday. Northern Lights in the Yukon . The first will be the remote and welcoming Northern Lights Resort and Spa where you will stay in a Hop on board a helicopter and enjoy a 25 munute flight taking inisights such as Miles Canyon, Mount Granger and Fish Lake.

In a Canadian first , an airline will offer a flight just for viewing the northern lights this fall. The Yukon Astronomical Society partnered with Air North and Tourism Yukon to make this one -off special happen. The flight will leave Whitehorse on either Nov.

“The aurora market is seeing huge demand and the Yukon is expanding its portfolio of opportunities. The Yukon has affordable accessibility though air hubs including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. We have a growing culinary scene and a lot of outdoor activities that complement anyone’s aurora experience.”

During the flight, Kenny and first officer Daniel Hartman kept the doors to the cockpit open. A line of people waited their turn to talk with them and watch the show from the best seat in the house.

When I inched into the cockpit, it was as if the aurora snapped into focus — a magnificent blazing glow of green. For me, it was downhill from there, but from the beginning to the end, man, what a ride.

Mike Fisher was hosted by Tourism Yukon and its partners, which didn’t review or approve this story.

When you go

Stay: I stayed at the Edgewater Hotel in Whitehorse. It’s just steps from the riverfront, where you can walk and might see the aurora on a good night.

Eat:Giorgo’s Cuccina offers great Italian and Greek. The nautically themed Wheelhouse Restaurant has great ribs, steak and Arctic char.

Do: At Sky High Wilderness Ranch, you can snowmobile and mush your own small team of sled dogs, and relax in a heated yurt with great eats. Two mainstay Whitehorse activities are touring the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and taking a dip in the Takhini Hot Pools. Otherwise, a highlight for me was flightseeing in a small aircraft over Kluane National Park with Rocking Star Adventures.

Aurora: Two major aurora tour operators are Arctic Range Adventure and Northern Tales Travel Services, both of which have their own viewing facilities. Otherwise, check with your hotel for tours.

Do your research:TravelYukon.com

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