Facing 'Extreme' Headwinds, More Non-Stop Flights Stopping To Refuel

There's that "extreme" word again. "Extreme" headwinds, "extreme" weather. Gee, you don't suppose there's a connection of some kind: Dozens of Continental Airlines flights to the East Coast from Europe have been forced to make unexpected stops in

There's that "extreme" word again. "Extreme" headwinds, "extreme" weather. Gee, you don't suppose there's a connection of some kind:

Dozens of Continental Airlines flights to the East Coast from Europe have been forced to make unexpected stops in Canada and elsewhere to take on fuel after running into unusually strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean.

The stops, which have caused delays and inconvenience for thousands of passengers in recent weeks, are partly the result of a decision by United Continental Holdings Inc., the world's largest airline, to use smaller jets on a growing number of long, trans-Atlantic routes.

United's strategy works when the winds are calm, and it allows the airline to operate less expensive aircraft with fewer cabin-crew members to an array of European cities that wouldn't generate enough traffic to justify larger planes.

But by pushing its international Boeing Co. 757s to nearly the limit of their roughly 4,000-nautical-mile range, United is leaving little room for error when stiff winds increase the amount of fuel the planes' twin engines burn.

Last month, United said, its 169-seat 757s had to stop 43 times to refuel out of nearly 1,100 flights headed to the U.S. A year earlier, there were only 12 unscheduled stops on roughly the same volume of 757 flights.

[...] "Headwinds returning from Europe are more extreme than we have seen in 10 years," said a United spokeswoman. For the past decade, December headwinds averaged 30 knots, according to United data. But last month, the winds averaged 47 knots, and, on the worst 15 days of the month, 60 knots.

The winds didn't abate this month. In the first eight days of January, United said it made unplanned refueling stops on 14 flights on the six routes most prone to refueling, including four on the Stuttgart-Newark run, four on Paris-Washington Dulles and two each on Stockholm-Newark and Barcelona-Newark. Those routes tend to be nearly as long as the plane's maximum range.

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