Climate Change Could Make Transatlantic Flights Longer

By Tom Pritchard on at

Flying isn't all that great. Nobody enjoys being locked into a metal tube with a bunch of randoms, especially when those randoms include a bunch of noisy Americans. Sadly in future you might have to spend a bit more time locked away, because climate change could make flights from Britain to America longer.

How is this possible you say? A new study from researchers at the University of Reading has found that climate change might increase the speed of the jet stream, slowing down planes flying west across the Atlantic. While flights going the other way will also end up being slightly quicker, the researchers claim that the time needed for a round trip will "significantly lengthen".

For those who aren't experts in meteorology, the jet streams are powerful high altitude winds that help move weather systems across the planet. At the moment air traffic tries to take advantage of those winds to try and reduce the length of journeys between Europe and North America. Past studies have shown that climate change would increase turbulence in the jet stream, but the new study found that winds from New York to London will, on average, be 15 per cent faster.

After feeding their results into the route-planning algorithms used by commercial airlines, researchers found that flights from London to New York will be twice as likely to take over seven hours, while the return journey will be twice as likely to take less than five hours and 20 minutes.

On average the difference will apparently only account for a few minutes each way, but estimates indicate that it could total an extra 2,000 hours of air time every year. That will mean around $22/£15.14 million of extra fuel is burned, more CO2 is produced, and (in all likelihood) a rise in ticket prices.

[Environmental Research Letters via BBC News]