SunFlight – choose your airline seat based on what side the sun will be

Ever wondered what side of the plane is the best in order to avoid that early morning glare? Or you want to make sure you capture a beautiful sunset at 36,000 feet?

Then SunFlight could be for you! [Chrome only at the moment]

Created during THack Singapore in October 2011, SunFlight uses flight scheduling data provided by OAG OnDemand to plot on a Google Map exactly where the sun will be in relation to the progress of a flight.

After sitting around on the servers of GetFlight, an Australia-based flight search engine run by ex-Travellr boss Ian Cumming, for the past eight months, SunFlight has now been picked up by the influential Google Maps Mania blog.

Although SunFlight didn’t win THack Singapore at the time, it was praised by the judges for its creativity, ease-of-use and viability as a tool airlines and OTAs might consider using.

So how does it work?

Users enter any flight number for a trip and then plots the route on the map. It then adds a shaded area to illustrate night and day and also the sun’s position.

So here is Qantas flight QF320 from London Heathrow to Singapore later today. The aircraft symbol shows the flight in London at 21:15 local time, just after dusk.

Six and half hours into the flight and QF320 is somewhere over Afghanistan. It is coming up to mid-morning and the sun is on the left-hand side of the aircraft (note the sun symbol over the Philippines).

Fast forward to landing at Singapore’s Changi Airport (12.5 hours after take-off) and passengers on the right-hand side of the aircraft will get a wonderful sunset to the rear of their view from the plane.

It is worth mentioning that this hack was created in just 24 hours in Singapore.

As someone said at the time: “It would take my developers weeks to do that!”

NB: Not too late to join THack London. Other THacks for 2012 to be announced very soon!

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Tom

    Please reinstate the page, or better still release it as an Iphone or Android app.

    • Ian

      Hi Tom

      I made this website more than four years ago, in a single day code-competition. I’m glad that it is still in demand all these years later 🙂

      I don’t have the time to maintain it any longer, and for at least the past year I’ve advertised on the page’s FAQ ( that anyone who would like to make updates are welcome to use the source code.

      The source code is available here:

      Anyway since you posted here, I took a quick look and fixed the error preventing the site to load. However it really needs some new maintainers and anyone is welcome to pick this up and turn it into an app etc.


      PS: I think this wins the record for longest running THack – Gene? 🙂

  2. Alastair McKenzie

    Something else has just occurred to me (yes, a whole year later! But triggered by Ian’s update above)

    Is this not the 21st century version of POSH – the ticket/luggage label option for Port Out, Starboard Home?

  3. Ian

    Hi everyone

    I’ve just released an update to, here’s a list of new features:

    – Multi-leg support (try UA154 for example)
    – Calculates the % of time on left, right, and night for each flight
    – Calculates the time and side of sunset and sunrise
    – New, improved user interface
    – Mobile support for iPhone / iPad / Android
    – Support for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.

    Thanks to everyone for their feedback, please keep it coming so I can keep improving this tool. Also if you like using SunFlight please consider donating (using the link at the bottom of the website) so I can pay towards the commercial data costs.


  4. Alastair McKenzie

    TBF I was thinking – but didn’t want to add for the sake of not complicating an already complicated comment 😛 – that while routes running on a mostly north-south axis are also pretty easy to work out in your head where the sun will be (eg, a morning flight from London to Oslo will probably have the sun on the starboard side), it starts getting much more complicated on ‘diagonal’ (eg. NW-SE) routes, particularly longhaul flights on curved ‘great circle’ flightpaths!

    Oh, and programming it in 24hrs IS the work of genii 🙂

  5. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    @alastair thx for the comment. Our motivation for showcasing it here is because it was also built in 24 hours.

    And yes, (and to Mr rtwflights) I probably should’ve picked a more dramatic example.

  6. Alastair McKenzie

    I like it. I admire it. It’s clever. It’s elegant… (you can feel the “But” coming)….

    But it’s not exactly rocket science.

    The sun’s overhead position drifts south to the Tropic of Capricorn (Queensland, Namibia, Paraguay), which it reaches at the winter solstice (December). Then it starts drifting north to the Tropic of Cancer where it arrives about now (June).

    The Tropic of Cancer runs through the Sahara, northern India, and Mexico. If your flight is anywhere north of those countries, (what, 80% of global air traffic?) then at any time of the year the sun will be port side flying west and starboard flying east.

    Still, this would be handy for flights out of Singapore in March or October!

    • Justin Grieser

      “The Tropic of Cancer runs through the Sahara, northern India, and Mexico. If your flight is anywhere north of those countries…then at any time of the year the sun will be port side flying west and starboard flying east.”

      This is incorrect. Between the March and September equinoxes (Mar 20-Sep 23), the setting sun will appear starboard (on the right) when flying west, while sunrise will be seen port side (left) when flying east – even if your flight path is north of the Tropic of Cancer. This is because the sun rises north of due east and sets north of due west when Earth’s northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. Conversely, from the September to March equinox, the sun rises south of due east and sets south of due west. These premises hold true in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, whether you’re observing the sun from the ground (or in flight).

      How does all this translate to which side of the plane you’ll see sunrise or sunset?

      To catch sunrise (in either hemisphere):
      – Fly port (left) if your flight path is eastbound from mid-March to late September.
      – Fly starboard (right) if your flight path is eastbound from from late September to mid-March.

      To catch sunset (in either hemisphere):
      – Fly starboard (right) if your flight path is westbound from mid-March to late September.
      – Fly port (left) if your flight path is westbound from late September to mid-March.

      In some cases you may not see sunrise or sunset from either side of the plane. This happens if the flight trajectory is directly aligned with the sun’s azimuth (position or heading, 0 to 360°, relative to due north on a compass). For example, if you’re flying due west on the equinox, only the pilots in the cockpit would witness sunset.

      At other times of year the exact position of sunrise or sunset will depend on the plane’s latitude. In general, as the plane’s distance from the equator increases (i.e. the closer you are to the poles), the closer sunrise and sunset will appear to due north if flying from April to August. From October to February, on the other hand, sunrise and sunset appear closer to due south the greater one’s distance from the equator.

      More info on the sun’s changing position throughout the year:

  7. Stuart L

    Plus 20 bucks to book that sunny side seat, with Qantas.

    But thinking about it on the QF 320…

    LHR SIN 2115#1705 @QF 320 F3 A1 J2 C0 DC IC WC TC Y9 B0#744C*E

    You’d get on at Heathrow at 8.45pm in the dark and when would the blinds come up? 2 hour before arrival? Would you pay for that? Hmmm.

    Still twas done quickly. Looks cool too. Nice map work.

  8. The Sunny Side of Plane Travel! | Travel News from South East Asia

    […] Side of Plane Travel! Posted on: 8 June 2012 by Sam Clark (No Comments) Tweet Thanks to Tnooz for this one: there is a new site called Sunflight where you can plot your plane journey […]


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