So I got on a plane in San Francisco on the morning of August 5th and a long time later I landed in India on the afternoon of August 6th – the next day. We never crossed the International Date Line and the bright sun was shining during the entire trip. So there was never any night between August 5th and August 6th. How is this possible?
Answer- we flew above the Arctic Circle on a Great Circle Route. During the hours that should have been “night”, and would have been night in a different season, the sun was above the horizon shining into our eyes across the top of the world. Plus, eleven and a half hours simply disappeared due to the time zone difference. Actually, those hours just never existed at all.
What is a great circle route, you may ask? Sometimes the most direct way to go from west to east (and back again) is to go north, and then south. On a rectangular map of the world this makes no sense but the Earth is really a sphere. Take a piece of string and hold it over a globe, placing one end at San Francisco and one end at New Delhi. You will see that if you stretch it tight it passes over Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. Look down on the globe from the north pole and it will be obvious why.
Air travel is romantic, no matter how small the seats are or how long the lines you wait in. Here I am flying halfway around the world in less than a day! Whoever thought our planet is big? You can see the whole thing from the air. I saw Mount Shasta, the Columbia River, the Canadian Rockies (Jasper National Park was stunningly beautiful; I need to go there!), clouds in the arctic, salt flats in Kazakhstan, green patchworks of fields and villages on the Indian plain.