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I always like flying to/from north America, since the route usually goes over Greenland. I do like the idea that I am only 10 km away from this inaccessible land. I would love to be able to say that I have been that close to the north pole. Unfortunately, so far my journeys remained to the more southern parts. Do airlines fly directly over the north pole and if so what route should I take to have the best chance?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I've flown directly over the north pole on a route from ATL to PEK (beijing). Here's a pic of the seatback flight map from a United 747, where I spent the entire flight with my face pressed to the window. Amazing scenery from Hudson Bay north through Baffin Island and on. It was July of 2008.

When we crossed the pole (as indicated in the flight map) the icon of the airplane began to flip back and forth, not knowing exactly which way it was pointing. I thought that was really cool and shot video of it trying to establish it's direction over the course of about 3 mins. Once we get a little bit of distance from magnetic north, the icon settled down and pointed toward Beijing.

enter image description here

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The flickering is probably not due to the magnetic north pole, as that one is nowhere close the north pole. –  drat Nov 27 '13 at 19:39
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No, the flickering is in fact proof that the plane is near the true north pole and not the magnetic pole which is near Canada-Greenland. Planes are using gyrocompasses which in fact are unable to follow true north about poles. –  Thorsten S. Nov 28 '13 at 18:07

In order to fly over the north pole (or more broadly just the Arctic), you'd have to travel to a city that is approximately across the globe as then the shortest distance would go over the north pole. You can try out which cities satisfy this criterion with the distance tool of Google maps. One possible route is for instance from the Middle East to the American West Coast, for instance this flight: Dubai to San Francisco.

A little more information about this can be found on the Wikipedia article Polar route and it seems those routes are fairly common. However I think being based in Europe, there are not many flights over the Arctic. Such a route from Europe would lead to the Eastern tip of Russia directly or to some of the Pacific islands, where there's probably only very few direct flights to.

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Building on @user34936's answer, it seems Condor's direct flight between Frankfurt-am-Main and Anchorage could fit the bill.

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yes, that could actually work, the shortest way between Frankfort and Anchorage passes just over the northern-most tip of Greenland. It's not the north pole, but it's definitely in the Arctic. –  drat Nov 27 '13 at 11:47
    
@user34936 Is there an easy way to visualize this? Condor's website just shows a straight line on a map with some inadequate (for this purpose) projection. –  Relaxed Nov 27 '13 at 11:54
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I use the google maps feature to measure distance. However this obviously only shows the ideal shortest path and I'd guess the real path would depend on weather, political boundaries etc. Another problem is that the North Pole is not actually on Google Maps, which stops at 85° North. –  drat Nov 27 '13 at 12:26
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@Random832 I am sure I could and that all the info needed is on Wikipedia as well, but that's not easy. I was more thinking of a website where I could enter two names and click on something to get a fancy interactive map, ideally with a more traditional projection ;-) –  Relaxed Nov 27 '13 at 12:56
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@Annoyed Use the Great Circle Mapper - gcmap.com/mapui?P=FRA-ANC –  Dexter Nov 27 '13 at 19:32

How close to the north pole do you want to be?

Since it is just a where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface, you'd have to be pretty lucky to fly directly over it :)

Besides, transcontinental flights usually try to take advantage of the jet stream, so I think you'd be better off renting your own plane and crew.

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