The eclipse is less than a week away. People are scrambling to make – or change – plans

Eclipse mania is approaching fever pitch as people with the best laid plans — and those who have yet to make them, too — strategize about getting into the path of totality for a clear view of the celestial event on April 8.

For some, plans for where to fly, drive and stay to hopefully catch a glimpse of the last total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States until 2044 have been in place for months or even years. For others, the concept that this event is not to be missed might just be starting to dawn. People in both camps are scrambling — factoring in escalating costs and weather concerns — to make last-minute decisions about where to try to see the eclipse.

The total solar eclipse’s path of totality — where the moon completely blocks the face of the sun — stretches across portions of 13 US states as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. But as the latest weather forecasts threaten to throw a wrench in the form of cloud cover across much of the path of totality, the best bet for seeing the total eclipse will be to stay mobile and flexible with your plans, said Mark Littmann, co-author of “Totality: The Great North American Eclipse of 2024.”

“It’s going to take dedication at this point,” Littmann said. “About 31 million people live in the path of totality. And millions and millions of tourists are going to be pushing into the path of totality — driving for an hour, two or three hours as well as flying in.”

Judette Louis of Tampa, Florida, said she spent several hours on Sunday researching options for flying her family to see the eclipse in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has friends, after “being radicalized by TikTok” and hearing her local meteorologist talk about how awesome the event is.

But after finding that flights from Tampa to Cleveland were around $600, a one-day car rental was $300 and almost no hotel inventory was available in the city, Louis said, she’s wavering.

“My concern is that I’m going to pay all this money and then not see it,” she said, adding that Cleveland’s weather “appears to be iffy” on eclipse day.

Scouting alternatives

Many people who booked travel well in advance are eyeing the weather nervously as well.

“The weather forecast all along the eclipse route is giving people fits,” Littmann said. “It’s April, and April showers are no joke … the now 7-day forecast has a lot of inhospitable weather.”

With weather forecasts at the seven-day mark before the eclipse “pretty good these days,” said Littmann, there’s still time for variation. “But now we are at a point where we take things seriously.”

And it’s not just snow or rain that can foul things up for eclipse-watchers, Littmann said.

“You’ve got to have a reasonably clear day or good breakthrough in the clouds for this event,” Littmann said, adding that he knows eclipse-chasers who have reservations to see the eclipse in three or more places and “will start canceling when they see something developing when it comes to the weather.”

Steven Robicsek, far left, watched the 2017 total solar eclipse in Sandy Run, South Carolina, with friends and family. - Steven Robicsek
Steven Robicsek, far left, watched the 2017 total solar eclipse in Sandy Run, South Carolina, with friends and family. - Steven Robicsek

Steven Robicsek, 66, from Gainesville, Florida, made arrangements to travel to Waco, Texas, almost a year ago for the eclipse and said he plans to wait for a couple more days to evaluate the updated weather report before possibly changing his plans.

“Some people are short circuiting and changing locations,” said Robicsek, who has seen three total solar eclipses in his lifetime and two partial ones and longs to have more time in totality.

“I spent a bit of time on the internet last night looking for easy alternate options,” he said. “So far the best option I’ve found from Florida is the Northeast.”

Robicsek plans to wait until Friday before making a final decision about where he will try to see the eclipse. Then, he said, he’ll drive into “the middle of the path of totality” from wherever he ends up flying into.

“It’s just an incredible natural event that I think is spectacular and hard to describe,” he said. “It comes and goes within minutes, and it’s just magnificent during those few minutes.”

Last-minute strategies

As booked out as everything is, there’s still hope for people who haven’t made any plans yet.

“Hotels along the path of totality have long been sold out but there are always some people who fall sick at the last minute or change their minds at the last minute,” Littmann said. “So it’s worth checking places that are accessible to you that you can get to in a hurry.”

Frequent eclipse-goers “try to keep themselves as mobile as possible,” he said, so they can move to a different location at the last minute, if necessary.

“Just remember what would take you an hour on a normal day might take you two hours or more, as everyone else in the world is watching the same weather forecast,” he said.

A long line of traffic near La Pine, Oregon, in 2017 gives an idea of what people on the move could face this year. - Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
A long line of traffic near La Pine, Oregon, in 2017 gives an idea of what people on the move could face this year. - Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The fact that this eclipse touches 13 states offers travelers plenty of destinations to choose from, said Katy Nastro, a travel expert with Going.

Flight prices have doubled on some routes, she said, so people considering a last-minute trip should consider looking for flights to cities that are two to 2.5 hours outside of the path of totality to take advantage of potentially less expensive flights.

“Some examples include Houston versus Austin or Dallas, Memphis versus Little Rock, Nashville versus Evansville, and Chicago versus Indianapolis,” Nastro said. “The advantage of a city outside of the path is that it also will likely still have accommodation availability whereas a lot of the major metro areas within the path are citing no vacancy or sky-high prices.”

Frequent flier miles might help last-minute eclipse travelers, too, she said.

“Points and miles tend to not fluctuate as much as cash prices so you may find flights for reasonable redemptions using points/miles for a last-minute purchase,” Nastro said.

Sky’s the limit when money is no object

For people willing to splurge on last-minute flights to where the weather looks most promising and then pay whatever it takes to stay (or fly back right after the eclipse is over), waiting until a day or two before the eclipse to travel can pay dividends when it comes to getting the best views.

“Anything more than 40 or 50 percent probability of clouds is really scary for people who want to see the event,” Littmann said. “But when you get down to two or three days before the eclipse, the hour by hour forecast is pretty dependable,”

“Three days out is not an absolute determinant, but when you get down to a day and a half or day ahead, that weather forecast is almost dead on,” he said.

A view from a plane during an eclipse flight from the Russian city of Murmansk to observe a solar eclipse on March 20, 2015, above the Norwegian Sea. - Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
A view from a plane during an eclipse flight from the Russian city of Murmansk to observe a solar eclipse on March 20, 2015, above the Norwegian Sea. - Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Other travelers will be looking to get above any potential cloud cover in the path of totality, he said.

“If money is no object, you can charter a plane and fly into anywhere that looks like good weather … that’s to be taken advantage of if the weather on the ground looks too iffy,” said Littmann, who plans to be on the ground in Kerrville, Texas, for the eclipse.

“I am sure there are a lot of people right now trying to rent airplanes locally that can fly above the crowds or maybe even charter a flight for additional people,” he said.

Ben Kaufman of charter air carrier JSX said the company has fielded countless emails and calls from customers asking how they can purchase a seat on a flight for the eclipse, but JSX decided not to sell any seats for the event.

The company ran a sweepstakes in March for free eclipse flights aboard a 30-seat jet that will depart from Dallas Love Field Airport around 1 p.m. on April 8 and host several VIPS and middle school and high school students that are part of a scholarship with the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas.

“The real advantage to seeing the eclipse from the air is you get this view through the path of totality,” Kaufman said. “Not just of the effects on the sky, but you see this darkening and shadowing across the curvature of the earth as far as the eye can see.”

Littmann said viewing the eclipse from inside an airplane means missing out on subtleties like changing animal behavior as the sky darkens and brightens as well as some of the coloration in the sky you can see better on the ground.

“What you gain in being in an aircraft is you know for sure you’re going to see it,” Littmann said. “And that’s worth a lot.”

Contending with high costs

Back on the ground, rental car prices are surging alongside flights in key cities along the path of totality.

Priceline reports rental car searches have risen over 500% in San Antonio, Austin, and Cleveland for the eclipse time frame versus the same period last year.

Airbnb reports a 1000% surge in searches for stays along the entire path of totality over the solar eclipse weekend for check-ins on April 7, 2024.

The moon partially blocks the sun in cloudy skies on August 21, 2017, over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. - Jeff Roberson/AP
The moon partially blocks the sun in cloudy skies on August 21, 2017, over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. - Jeff Roberson/AP

One out of four Airbnb guests with a reservation on the night before the solar eclipse have booked a stay along the path of totality, according to Airbnb spokesperson Haven Thorn.

Among the cities along the path of totality that still have availability for booking on April 7, he said, are Richardson, Texas; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Bloomington, Indiana; and Cleveland, Ohio.

Austin and the surrounding Hill Country area and Indianapolis are among the most booked destinations across all of North America on Airbnb for the solar eclipse weekend, Thorn said.

San Diego resident Madison Graça originally planned to fly to Dallas, rent a car and drive northeast toward the center of the path of totality. But she recently decided to drive to Texas instead to avoid the exorbitant airfare.

“I was still holding out hope that flight prices would drop, then I realized that wasn’t going to happen,” said Graça, 27.

She and her husband plan to make the roughly 19-hour drive from San Diego on April 5, using points to stay at hotels along the way, before arriving in Hico, Texas, on the western edge of the path of totality, the day before the eclipse.

“We both have never been to Texas,” said Graça, who saw her first total eclipse in 2017 in Oregon and longs for her husband to experience it for the first time, too.

Graça estimates she saved hundreds of dollars staying in a location along the edge of the path of totality compared to Airbnbs she researched elsewhere in Texas that were closer to the path’s center (where time in totality lasts longer).

“I figure if we need to we can drive a little more to be in the center or move for weather — or pop up some chairs in the middle of the road if we need to,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of on-the-go decisions.”

Graça has been trying to explain to her husband, who is wary of the long road trip, why the chance to see a total eclipse is worth taking.

“It’s one of those things that reminds you how small your place is in the universe,” she said. “Your problems seem not so big when you see something incredible like that.”

Florida-based travel writer Terry Ward lives in Tampa and still gets goosebumps remembering the sight of the Baily’s Beads from Greenville, South Carolina, during the 2017 total solar eclipse.

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