Why is it faster to fly east than west? (2023)

If you've ever traveled from east to west and back (or from east to west), you've probably noticed a difference in flight time between the two directions. for example, fromLondonIt takes just over eight hours to get to New York, and the return trip typically takes less than seven hours. Follow us to see the reasons behind this incident.

It is not directly related to the rotation of the earth.

Many people may think that the speed of the Earth to the east is caused by the rotation of the Earth to the east. But in fact, it is not. asnasaIn an interview with Forbes, Robert Frost explained that the rotation of the Earth does not have a direct relationship with the speed of flight. Just as you don't go faster when jogging from east to west, heading doesn't affect how fast your plane flies.

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The Earth spinning on its own axis may seem like an intuitive answer. While it has not directly affected aircraft, its indirect effects on climate have yet to be discovered. More specifically, the actual response involves a method calledjet stream.

Why is it faster to fly east than west? (1)

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | easy flight.

So what are the rapids?

The reason for the higher flight speed when flying to the east is the jet stream. In short, these are the narrow, fast-moving air currents found in the atmosphere at high altitudes. These currents are due to solar radiation and the Earth's Coriolis force (defined asA rotating object has a force perpendicular to the axis of rotation.) Combined, these factors create fast moving air currents that make flight times look significantly different depending on how they are executed.

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The most prominent jet streams are the polar stream (also known as the polar frontal jet or mid-latitude jet) and the subtropical stream. They are located at 60° north latitude and 30° south latitude from the equator, respectively. Polar air currents are the stronger of the two, causing much faster wind speeds than subtropical air currents. most airlines intransatlanticTranspacific routes take advantage of polar currents when planning flight routes.

Why is it faster to fly east than west? (2)

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | simple flight

The rapids can reach speeds of 80 to 140 miles per hour, sometimes up to 275 miles per hour. These strong winds have great advantages and disadvantages for commercial air travel. What's more, they could be about to change as Earth's temperature is affected by climate change, affecting more than just flight times.

Recent research from the University of Southampton has shown that the winter jet stream over the North Atlantic and Eurasia (responsible forStorm Eunice in the UK earlier this year) increased by 8% to an average speed of 132 miles per hour. It is also likely to move north and beyond its historical limits in the coming decades.

Why is it faster to fly east than west? (3)

Several planes had trouble landing at Heathrow during Storm Eunice. Photo: Getty Images


But let's forget about the future for a moment and look at the historical relationship between aviation and rapids. These fast-flying airstreams were first used in commercial aviation on a flight from Tokyo to Honolulu in 1952.

Flying over rapids has been found to reduce the trip from 18 hours to just 11.5 hours when flying below 25,000 feet. Airlines quickly realized the value of jet streams and began to implement them when planning routes.

Since rapids run from west to east, they make one part of the trip faster (flying downstream) and the other part slower (flying upstream). Imagine what it's like going down or up a river, or when you walk against the wind instead of turning away from it. Going back to the New York to London example, some flights even lengthen the route a bit, especially to take advantage of the rapids.

Why is it faster to fly east than west? (4)

Transatlantic flight route planning often takes into account the polar jet stream. Image: GCMap

Even on shorter transcontinental flights between cities like New York and Los Angeles, rapids can cut flight time by almost an hour. On long-haul transpacific routes, these data streams can be very useful for both passengers and airlines. Along polar air currents, the flight time from Tokyo to Los Angeles is just 9 hours and 55 minutes, while the reverse trip takes 11 hours and 45 minutes.

747 4 hours 55 minutes New York to London

In February 2020, a British Airways 747Breaking the transatlantic subsonic recordThanks to the strong rapids. The plane set a new record by flying from JFK to LHR in just 4 hours and 55 minutes at over 800 miles per hour.

In short, jet streams can drastically reduce flight time and fuel consumption, which has major implications for airline revenues and reduced emissions to the planet. While this seems like a win-win situation, there are a few things to consider.

Why is it faster to fly east than west? (5)

In February 2020, a BA 747 traversed the polar rapids, reaching speeds of over 800 miles per hour. Photo: Vincenzo Pace - Simple flight

clear air turbulence

While jet streams can speed things up, they have a clear drawback: clean air turbulence. Sudden intensity of clear air turbulence (CAT)turbulenceIt occurred in a cloudless sky, causing the plane to shake violently. This happens when slow jets interact with fast ones, creating extreme disturbances. Unlike other forms of turbulence, CAT is also not detectable by aircraft vision or radar.

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The study concluded that, due to global warming, the frequency of CAT will increase by 170% in the coming decades. This means that flying through the rapids will only get more dangerous in the years to come. Some areas may experience agitation of a small percentage. Injury rates are estimated to nearly triple by 2050.

In 1997, United Airlines Flight 826 from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Honolulu International Airport was involved in a major CAT accident, the exact route on which jet streams were first used on commercial flights. The sudden CAT caused the plane to drop 30 meters, leaving 18 passengers with serious spinal and neck injuries. A passenger who was not wearing a seat belt was killed in sudden turbulence.

Why is it faster to fly east than west? (6)

Flying faster means saving fuel. Photo: Getty Images.

It is not so simple

Rapids are a natural phenomenon and, like all things in nature, they are subject to change. On regular routes this simply means flying a few minutes or an hour longer, but on ultra-long routes it can become a problem. The demand and supply of flights of more than 15 hours that connect North America and Europe with Asia and Oceania have grown enormously in recent years. However, not everything went smoothly for them.

Air New Zealand's Auckland-New York route was hit hard by headwinds, for example, was still in its infancy at the end of last year. The flight was checked in at 17.5 hours, which pushed the Boeing 787-9 to the limit of its range, which means that even the slightest change could lead to the cancellation of the flight or, even worse, the unloading of passengers and luggage.

In fact, Air New Zealand was forced to take passengers on the road without baggage and even rebook on certain days due to the need for more fuel weight. Note again that service with rapids was much less affected at 3:5 p.m. m.

However, it is expected that a new type of aircraft like thisQantas A350-1000 specially adapted for Project Sunriseyou will have the extra capacity needed to make up for these small changes. Singapore Airlines' A350-900ULR avoids these issues, but expect to read more about changing weather conditions as airlines try to push their current aircraft to their limits. In fact, the Dreamliner, A321neo and A321LR prove that medium-range aircraft can fly long distances.

time difference price

While flight times may be shorter when flying west to east due to rapids, this is not necessarily beneficial to the passenger. Research in Travel & Leisure shows that passengers on eastbound flights are more susceptible to jet lag. While there are other factors at play, it could also mean that shorter flights leave less time to adjust and turn a blind eye to longer-distance routes.

London to New York is often cited as a classic example of insomnia. Return overnight flights from JFK and Newark land in London in the wee hours of the morning, but only take 6 to 6.5 hours, allowing travelers five hours of good sleep (at most). However, faster travel is always preferred, and airlines are unlikely to change routes just to give passengers a little more sleep.

In conclusion, the jet stream is the reason why the flight time shortens from west to east. Although they help, in some cases, to save hours on a long flight, they are not entirely without drawbacks.

Did you notice the difference in flight time when you were flying in either direction? Should airlines avoid jet streams due to increased risk? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

fuente:Forbes,Geophysical Research Cards,Journey

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