When you book a flight to an exotic destination in Asia from the east coast of North America, you may start to notice a pattern. Instead of flying directly over the Pacific Ocean, most airlines make a detour via Alaska. But why don’t these airplanes fly over the Pacific Ocean? Is it due to safety reasons? Something to do with profitability? Handy discusses some of the reasons planes avoid flying over the Pacific Ocean:
- Safety is always a top priority – The Pacific Ocean is the largest in the world with tiny remote islands in between the huge land masses of the Americas and Asia. This means no flight control towers, no emergency airstrips for landing, no rest stops for medical emergencies of passengers and more. So, airlines prefer not to fly over this huge ocean since an engine failure 30,000 ft over an endless stretch of water is a nightmare for both pilots and passengers.
The priorities change for military aircraft, but commercial flights usually take routes hugging Canada, Alaska, and parts of Russia to reach your destination in Asia. Moreover, flying over landmasses allows pilots to engage with flight controls and emergency landing capabilities.
- Speed – On a 2D world map the distance between Tokyo and Los Angeles may appear to be a straight line, but it is far from it. You can figure this out on your own if you conduct an experiment with a rope and connect those two destinations on a miniature globe. However, our earth isn’t a perfect sphere and our planet bulges out at the middle which makes a round trip of the equator longer than a round trip of the poles. When airlines make a detour over Alaska, they get to cover relatively shorter distances and thus, choose faster routes for their passengers.
- Profitability – The airline business is highly competitive with razor-thin margins. When airlines take shorter routes to avoid the Pacific Ocean, they also get to save on fuel costs and time. This means each plane can stay in the air for longer periods earning the airline more money. The airline also gets to add stops at other airports and offer connecting flights which can bring in more cash.
But that doesn’t mean that airlines don’t fly over the Pacific Ocean any time. Sometimes, airlines would fly over water when they need to avoid thunderstorms and flights over the ocean are usually less turbulent since hot air doesn’t frequently rise up to give way to turbulence. Sometimes, it may even be to take advantage of jet streams which can have speeds up to 200 mph and gives you a boost in safety.
According to Handy, flight routes are determined with all things under careful consideration. From passenger safety, turbulence, and emergency landings to distance, speed, and time. Profits are a big concern as well. Next time you fly over the Pacific or any ocean for that matter, you’ll know the factors that may have influenced the flight path.