Through the Airplane Window: Videos of Flying in Greenland

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Come fly with me!

Do you like flight videos? Are you the kind of person that likes to visualize what it looks like to land in a country before you travel there? Are you just daydreaming of Greenland?

Well, if you can look past the foggy windows (figuratively, that is) and, at times, shaky filming, then these videos of landing and taking off from various airports and heliports around Greenland (and at different times of the year) can give you the right impression that Greenland is the most majestic place on this earth!

Disclaimer: Every time I shoot one of these videos, I have the highest and most earnest hopes to edit them, add great music, etc. but it just never happens. So I’m abandoning those dreams and simply putting the videos here in their rawest form – take it or leave it! 🙂

The videos are ordered alphabetically by town name.

Illorsuit

Late Spring arrival to Illorsuit, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in North Greenland)

Ilulissat

Late Spring departure from Ilulissat, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in North Greenland, International Airport)

Kangerlussuaq

Late Spring arrival to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in Destination Arctic Circle, International Airport)

Kulusuk

Late Winter arrival to Kulusuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (settlement in East Greenland, International Airport)

Mid Spring departure from Kulusuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (settlement in East Greenland, International Airport)

Early Summer departure from Kulusuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (settlement in East Greenland, International Airport)

Narsaq

Late Winter arrival to Narsaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in South Greenland)

Narsarsuaq

Late Winter arrival to Narsarsuaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in South Greenland, International Airport)

Nugaatsiaq

Late Spring arrival to Nugaatsiaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in North Greenland)

Nuuk

Mid Winter departure from Nuuk, Greenland via Air Iceland (capital city, International Airport)

Late Spring arrival to Nuuk, Greenland via Air Greenland (capital city, International Airport)

Qaarsut

Late Spring departure from Qaarsut, Greenland via Air Greenland (settlement in North Greenland)

Qaqortoq

Late Winter arrival to Qaqortoq, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in South Greenland)

Tasiilaq

Early summer departure from Tasiilaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in East Greenland)

Uummannaq

Late Spring arrival to Uummannaq, Greenland via Air Greenland (town in North Greenland)

Greenland Ice Sheet

Mid Winter flying over East Greenland and Greenland Ice Sheet via Icelandair (no landing)

Early Spring flying over Greenland Ice Sheet and West Greenland via Icelandair (no landing)

Early Summer flying over West Greenland via Icelandair (no landing)

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The Nuuk You Didn’t See in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

IMG_7205Sassuma Arnaa (“Mother of the Sea”) statue in Nuuk. Made by Christian Rosing. Photo taken April 2015.

Remember that 2013 movie with Ben Stiller called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Remember how he traveled to Nuuk, Greenland with some package in tow?

Well guess what – the scenes weren’t filmed in Greenland at all! Upon a closer look at the film, I really had a field day picking out the familiar and false elements used to portray Nuuk and Greenland.

The Greenland scenes are only about 20 minutes of the movie, and in that span I noticed these 14 correct and incorrect elements. If you know Nuuk and Greenland, did you spot any others?

I’ll go easy on the filmmakers and start with the correct elements 😉

1. CORRECT: THAT’S THE TRUE AIR GREENLAND LOGO!IMG_9052

In this scene of the movie, Walter Mitty checks in at the airport for his flight to Greenland. The color, font, and logo behind the counter are all the unmistakable Air Greenland trademarks!

True fact: Air Greenland has had its name since 2002, before which this national airline was called Grønlandsfly for 42 years and used water planes in the old days!

2. CORRECT – THE BAR’S NAME HAS A REAL MEANING IN GREENLANDIC!IMG_9065

While there is no such bar called ‘Tuugaalik’ in Nuuk (or anywhere in Greenland to my knowledge), the word does have a real meaning in Greenlandic – “narwhal”. And, there is a fishing trawler boat by the same name in the Royal Greenland fleet.

If this movie was more accurate, the bar name would be ‘Skyline Bar’, ‘Takuss”, ‘Kristinemut’, or ‘Manhattan Night Club’.

IMG_5603Skyline Bar, the swanky piano bar at Hotel Hans Egede in Nuuk. Taken March 2015.

3. CORRECT – THIS IS MAKKA KLEIST, A NORTH GREENLANDIC WOMAN AND DIRECTOR AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF GREENLAND!IMG_9066

I thought, ‘Hey, I know that woman!’ when this scene popped up! Makka Kleist is the fantastic Director at Nunatta Isiginnaartitsisarfia, the National Theatre of Greenland located in Nuuk, and I had the rare opportunity to spend an afternoon with her a few months ago. Totally in her element down at the Theatre, she kept me in rapt attention with her storytelling about Greenlandic myths and mask dancing.

DSCN1480Makka Kleist, Director at the National Theatre of Greenland, in her right element! Taken April 2015.

4. CORRECT: THAT IS THE GREENLANDIC FLAG IN THE BACKGROUND!IMG_9069

That red and white flag in the background is the real Greenlandic flag. It’s correct orientation is with the white portion on top and it symbolizes the Greenlandic nature. The Greenlandic flag is an important political and cultural symbol, and really many people fly a Greenlandic flag on their own personal flagpoles outside their homes.

True fact: Greenland’s flag first came to be on 21 June 1985, National Day. The white portions of the flag represent ice elements in Greenland – the larger being the Greenland Ice Sheet and the smaller half circle being icebergs and sea ice. The red portions of the flag represent water elements in Greenland – the larger being the sea surrounding the island and the smaller half circle being fjords.

5. PARTIALLY CORRECT: SIGNS ARE WRITTEN IN DANISH IN GREENLAND.IMG_9062

In the movie, “Udlejningsbil” is written on the rental car kiosk, which is Danish for “Rental Car”. As Danish is one of the two official languages of Greenland, this is an accurate portrayal.

BUT – If this movie was more accurate, the sign would also be written in Greenlandic. Greenland is a dual-language country, so everything is printed in both Danish, the colonial language, and Greenlandic, the mother tongue.

See here for examples of what signage in Greenland looks like.

Also, I do applaud the simplicity of the rental car kiosk, as this level of simplicity can be pretty accurate for some places in Greenland, but there’s actually no such kiosk in Nuuk! To my knowledge, one can only drop off rental cars at Nuuk International Airport, not pick them up.

6. PARTIALLY CORRECT: THAT IS THE AIRCRAFT REGISTRATION FOR GREENLAND!IMG_9068

See that alphanumeric code on the black part of the helicopter? OY-HZF. The “OY” part identifies the machine as registered in Greenland, and all the Air Greenland, AirZafari, GreenlandCopter, and Blue West Helicopters machines have a unique one. (FYI: AirZafari, GreenlandCopter, and Blue West Helicopters are companies offering tourist and charter flights).

BUT – If this movie was more accurate, they would show a true helicopter that operates in Greenland. Everything else about this particular helicopter is incorrect (more explanation below). It makes me wonder why they went the extra mile to pretty accurately portray Air Greenland’s Airbus but not its helicopters??

7. INCORRECT: THE AIR GREENLAND ATTENDANT’S SCARF IS A KNOCKOFF!IMG_9054

While the dark blazer and white shirt that the Air Greenland attendant wears are true to Air Greenland staff uniforms, I believe the scarf in the movie is a knock off representation of the designer Isaksen, with whom Air Greenland and its daughter companies have a partnership.

8. INCORRECT: NORSAQ, AIR GREENLAND’S ONLY AIRBUS 330-200, WOULD NOT FLY TO NUUK!IMG_9056 IMG_9061

First, a small aviation lesson for you: the length of a runway is the key factor that determines what types of aircraft can land on it. An Airbus could never land at Nuuk International Airport because at just 1799 m / 1.1 mi in length, the runway is too short.

And, if the Airbus were to stand next to the Nuuk airport building, I don’t think the size comparison would be quite this exaggerated. But maybe close! This is what Norsaq looks like standing at Kangerlussuaq International Airport:

P1000116Air Greenland’s Airbus 330-200, named Norsaq, standing at Kangerlussuaq International Airport in March 2013.

If this movie was accurate, Walter Mitty would be flying in a small propeller plane to Nuuk, like these Dash-8’s that Air Greenland uses for its seasonal international flights between Nuuk and Reykjavík and for year-round domestic flights around the country.

IMG_2824One of Air Greenland’s Dash-8 propeller planes standing at Nuuk International Airport in April 2013.

True fact: there is only one town in Greenland where an Airbus can land. That town is the aforementioned Kangerlussuaq, located on the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast. Air Greenland uses its single Airbus for year-round international flights between Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen.

9. INCORRECT: THERE WOULD NOT BE AN IN-FLIGHT MEAL ON A FLIGHT TO NUUK!IMG_9057

There is no such meal service offered on any Air Greenland flights servicing Nuuk – not on the seasonal international flights between Nuuk and Reykjavík, and not on the year-round domestic flights between Nuuk and several towns in Greenland.

If this movie was accurate, Walter Mitty would be drinking tea or coffee and eating a chocolate chip cookie on his way to Nuuk. Plus a licorice-flavored hard candy just before landing.

True fact: In-flight meals are offered on Air Greenland’s year-round international flight between Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen, and they look a bit more like this:

P1000044Airplane food on board Air Greenland’s transatlantic flight between Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and Copenhagen, Denmark.

10. INCORRECT: THAT IS NOT NUUK!IMG_9058 IMG_9059

There’s simply no way to fake what a real place looks like. That is not Nuuk’s landscape and it’s not the city, either. It’s Iceland! Although I don’t know exactly which town in Iceland.

If this movie was accurate, Walter Mitty would see glaciers, Nuuk Fjord, and Sermitsiaq, Nuuk’s iconic mountain, when arriving to the capital of Greenland.

P1010449View over Nuuk Fjord and Sermitsiaq mountain just minutes before arriving to Nuuk International Airport. Photo taken in May 2013.

Watch this video to see what it actually looks like to arrive to Nuuk.

11. INCORRECT – NUUK IS NOT THAT SMALL!IMG_9064

This shot from the movie reduces Nuuk’s size considerably to that of a sleepy fishing village. While that could describe other places around Greenland, it is definitely not what Nuuk is about!

If this movie was accurate, it would show a far more cosmopolitan, bustling, and vibrant town like this!

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View down Aqqusinersuaq, the main street in Nuuk city center. Taken June 2013.

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Nuuk city center. Taken June 2014.

12. INCORRECT – THERE ARE NO SLED DOGS IN NUUK!IMG_9065

The movie shows howling sled dogs and dog sleds along the side of the road, which is completely wrong because there are no sled dogs in Nuuk. Dog sledding is one of the Big Arctic Five elements, so the association between sled dogs and Greenland is on the right track, but the location is inaccurate.

If this movie was accurate, there would be no sign of dog sledding whatsoever, and instead there would be the usual dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels. Or Nova Scotia Ducktolling Retrievers like Kasik here, my host family’s dog.

IMG_6438Walking the dog at the Colonial Harbor beach in Nuuk. Taken April 2015.

True fact: The owning of sled dogs is directly related to the ability to drive them over winter sea ice for hunting and fishing. Therefore, sled dogs are only found where there is sea ice – in East Greenland and above the Arctic Circle on the west coast.

Another true fact: In sled dog regions, other dog breeds are prohibited because no risk can be taken that the Greenlandic sled dog’s incredibly pure genetics gets tainted. They have adaptations like extremely thick fur that lets them sleep outdoors 365 days a year, and they have innate super-canine powers like the instinct to know whether sea ice is thick enough to support a sled.

13. INCORRECT – THESE ARE NOT THE HELICOPTERS FOUND IN GREENLAND!IMG_9068

First of all, this is nothing what the helicopters look like in Greenland. Not the type, not the paint, nothing.

Second of all, outside of charter flights to Tele communications towers in the hills, helicopters aren’t commonly used in Nuuk and the capital region. Helicopters are much more common in North Greenland, South Greenland, and East Greenland where there is a network of settlements to service.

If this movie was accurate, they would show the actual helicopters used in Greenland like Bell 212’s, Eurocopter AS350’s, and Sikorsky S-61’s.

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Top: Air Greenland Bell 212 helicopter in East Greenland preparing for a passenger flight. Taken April 2013. //// Bottom: Air Greenland Sikorsky S-61 helicopter in Nuuk doing training missions. Taken April 2015.

True fact: Helicopters are the most important air transportation machine in Greenland! There are, in fact, twice as many helicopters in the Air Greenland fleet as there are fixed-wing airplanes.

Read more facts like this and about the flying experience in Helicopter Flying in Greenland, an article I wrote for the Visit Greenland newsletter in March 2015.

14. INCORRECT – THAT’S NOT HOW YOU SPELL EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL!IMG_9073

Lastly, I even found a mistake related to Iceland! They misspelled the now-famous volcano’s name, leaving out a J and an Ö. Do you know where they go? 😉

Helicopter Flying in Greenland

Helicopter_IllorsuitAir Greenland Bell212 helicopter on route flight in Illorsuit, Greenland, 71*N (2013).

In most places around the world (so I imagine), helicopter flying is pretty rare as car, bus, or train transport has become the easiest/cheapest/fastest way to cover relatively short distances.

But it is for this exact reason that, in Greenland, transportation by helicopter is a way of life! With no roads between any of the 70+ inhabited towns and settlements, helicopters create the Greenlandic highway – in the sky!!

And since we have the machines at our disposal, why not give them double-duty and use them for tourist flights, too?! You would be amazed by how much more detail one can see from a helicopter than from an airplane.

Read more of what I wrote in Helicopter Flying in Greenland, an article in this month’s Visit Greenland Newsletter.

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Greenland and Iceland Combination Holiday!

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Photo credit: Mads Pihl / Visit Greenland. Nuuk by night.

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Photo credit: Skarphéðinn Þráinsson, www.skarpi.is. Reykjavík skyline.

Greenland and Iceland – two adventurous destinations, close enough to hit in the same holiday!

Read Visit Greenland’s latest newsletter all about combining Greenland and Iceland in the same trip.

Compare wild nature across both countries… Learn about cultural opportunities in the capital cities of Nuuk and Reykjavík… and Delve into the Viking history that connects Greenland and Iceland forever.

See you in the Arctic!

How to Get to Greenland

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Photo credit: Visit Greenland

After more than a few handfuls of trips between the United States and Greenland, traveling northward has become second nature for me. But how quickly I forget that, not long ago, I too was a first-timer wondering how on Earth to get to the top of the world! So, after my friend over at The Fourth Continent taught us about How to get from Down Under to Up Over earlier this month, I decided to share 6 basics about traveling to Greenland (with a focus on the United States/North America as the starting point), plus bonus material of a few veteran tips and a step-by-step look at my typical journey starting from Washington, D.C.

SIX BASICS

  1. There are 0 direct flights to Greenland from the United States/North America. Sorry about it.
  2. There are 2 worldwide cities with direct flights to Greenland, listed here from closest to furthest distance from the United States/North America. Look on the map and realize that both of them take you past Greenland just to bring you back west… 😉
      • Reykjavík, Iceland ( NOTE: There are two airports: Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavík Domestic Airport. Both are used for international transportation to Greenland. See Routes section below).
      • Copenhagen, Denmark
  3. There are 2 airlines that fly into Greenland, each with distinct routes in different seasons. See #5. Note: for anyone that is a very thorough researcher, you may have found mention of smaller airlines also offering service to Greenland (namely Greenland Express and Aluu Airlines). However, neither has produced consistently reliable flights and therefore I make no mention of them here.
  4. There are 6 international airports in Greenland, listed here in clockwise order starting in the east.
      • Nerlerit Inaat (East Greenland) – CNP
      • Kulusuk (East Greenland) – KUS
      • Narsarsuaq (South Greenland) – UAK
      • Nuuk (Capital Region) – GOH
      • Kangerlussuaq (Arctic Circle Region) – SFJ
      • Ilulissat (North Greenland) – JAV
  5. 2 big factors determine which airline and which route you will take into Greenland. Ask yourself these questions, and look below at the various route/season combinations.
      • When do I want to go to Greenland?
          • If you want to travel in summer, both airlines will be flying out of Reykjavík, and you can travel on nearly every day of the week.
          • If you want to travel in winter, only one airline will be flying out of Reykjavík, and you can only travel on 2 days of the week. If you need more flexibility or your dates are fixed, it might make more sense to connect via Copenhagen.
      • Where do I want to go in Greenland?
          • It always makes the most sense to connect through Reykjavík with a direct flight to your destination, season permitting. If you are traveling during summer, you can reach all 5 regions of Greenland via Reykjavík.
          • If you want to travel to Kangerlussuaq, specifically in autumn & winter & spring, check the economics – depending on ticket price and availability, it might make more sense to connect via Copenhagen than to connect via Reykjavík plus take a domestic flight in Greenland.
      • International Routes & Seasons. (*** Disclaimer: these routes and seasons are pretty set, but always refer to the airline booking systems for the most up-to-date information, linked above in #3.)
          • Copenhagen – Kangerlussuaq (Air Greenland, year round)
          • Copenhagen – Narsarsuaq (Air Greenland, summer)
          • Keflavik – Nuuk (Air Greenland, spring & summer & autumn)
          • Keflavik – Ilulissat (Air Greenland, summer) NEW – 2016!!
          • Keflavik – Kangerlussuaq (Air Iceland, summer) NEW – 2016!!
          • Reykjavík – Nuuk (Air Iceland, year round)
          • Reykjavík – Kulusuk (Air Iceland, year round)
          • Reykjavík – Ilulissat (Air Iceland, spring & summer)
          • Reykjavík – Narsarsuaq (Air Iceland, summer)
          • Reykjavík – Nerlerit Inaat (Air Iceland, spring & summer)
  6. You can also travel to/around Greenland via cruise ship.

MY TYPICAL JOURNEY (Washington, D.C. to Nuuk, Greenland via Reykjavík, Iceland)

Step 1: It always starts with a 6-hour direct red-eye flight, via Icelandair, from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. to Keflavik International Airport in Reykjavík, Iceland! Just like clockwork, I select the departure around 20:00 and arrival around 06:30 the next day, local time.

For Americans/North Americans not starting in DC, Icelandair also operates flights from Boston, New York, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Anchorage, and others, and WOW air is also a reliable newcomer with budget North American flights from Baltimore, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal, and soon to be Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    • Veteran Tip: Difficult as it is to sleep on the plane when you are so very excited to get to Greenland, DO IT! When you land, you have jumped ahead 4 hours from EDT (or 5 hours from EST) directly into Iceland’s morning, and your next chance to sleep won’t be for many hours!

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Step 2: Next is a typically a 12-hour layover in Reykjavík, Iceland. The flight to Nuuk, Greenland does not leave until the evening, although if you’re going to Narsarsuaq, Greenland or Ilulissat, Greenland, for example, there are morning/afternoon departures, which are a bit more humane 🙂

You have many choices of what to do during a layover, depending to some extent on which airline you fly into Greenland with (which, in turn, depends on what time of year you fly…).

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    • If you take Air Greenland to a destination in Greenland, you will fly out of the same airport you arrived to (Keflavik International Airport). The Keflavik airport is a bit south of Reykjavik city center (45 minute drive), so you can either stay out of town near the airport or you can go into town and come back.
        • ‘Stay out of town’ option: You could hit the nearby Blue Lagoon, a popular natural geothermal spa. Reykjavik Excursions provides round-trip bus transportation, and you can hire luggage storage at the spa. Or you could do another excursion, of course.
        • ‘Go into town and come back’ option: Reykjavik Excursions provides bus transportation for this option, too, which I highly recommend over taking a private cab. For one thing, it’s cheaper (30 USD round trip, versus 200 USD round trip using a private cab) and for another, there is free wi-fi on board. You can hire luggage storage at the BSÍ Bus Terminal while you sightsee around Reykjavik.
        • Veteran Tip: Unless you have a definite plan or an excursion booked first thing upon arrival to Keflavik International Airport, I suggest killing time in this airport for a few hours before making your way to Reykjavik city center or elsewhere. Remember, it’s quite early in the morning, and if you go into Reykjavik too soon, you run the risk that the shops, cafés, and sights are not open yet. Better to stay put with a guarantee of wi-fi and strong coffee 😉
        • Veteran Tip: For extreme flexibility with your plans, you can wait to buy bus tickets upon arrival to Keflavik International Airport. Like clockwork, buses leave 30 minutes after every single international arrival, so check the schedule for your ideal bus departure. Tickets can be purchased at the Reykjavik Excursions kiosk. After baggage claim, follow the signs to Exit/Customs Declaration, and the kiosk will be on the right just before exiting the airport.
    • If you take Air Iceland into Greenland, then you might have to transfer to a different airport (Reykjavik Domestic Airport). Please note: the flights to Narsarsuaq, Greenland and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland leave from Keflavik International Airport while the flights to Nuuk, Greenland and Ilulissat, Greenland and Kulusuk, Greenland leave from Rekjavík Domestic Airport.
    • Reykjavík Domestic Airport is in Reykjavik city center so you must go into town no matter what. See the ‘Go into town and come back’ option and veteran tips above. A one-way ticket via the Reykjavik Excursions bus costs 18 USD, versus 100 USD for a private cab.
        • Veteran Tip: Reykjavik Domestic Airport is very small with just a small cafe and places to sit. These days, there IS free wi-fi inside, so that’s a plus! Check-in does not begin until 1 hour before departure, even for international flights, so there is no need to arrive to this airport very early. Stay in town as long as possible!
        • Veteran Tip: Always be prepared for delays or cancellations, and check the Departure Schedule frequently. Delays are a harsh reality of traveling anywhere in the world, but remember that you are flying in the Arctic. If there are unstable conditions in Reykjavík, in your Greenland destination, over the Greenland Ice Sheet, or anywhere in between, it is best to stay put until conditions improve. If a cancellation occurs, the airline will provide overnight accommodation for you, meal vouchers, and transportation to/from airport/hotel.

Step 3: Finally, Greenland-bound! The final step is a 2-3 hour direct flight from Reykjavík, Iceland to Nuuk, Greenland. It is a lovely flight, and with good visibility, you can see down to East Greenland and the Greenland Ice Sheet!

Flight time is still typically 2-3 hours even if you are not going to Nuuk.

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Total travel time: Up to 24 hours.

Total ticket price: Don’t even think about it.

Total experience of traveling to the best country in the world: Priceless.