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Strong Winds Are Forcing Many Virgin America Transcons to Divert for Fuel

Feb. 18, 2018
6 min read
BOS-SFO Virgin America diverting to BOI
Strong Winds Are Forcing Many Virgin America Transcons to Divert for Fuel
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Airlines have been battling some exceptionally strong winds recently. While this has led to transatlantic flight speed records being broken time and again going from west to east, there's also a downside to these strong winds. Flight schedules are being thrown out of whack by both earlier-than-expected eastbound arrivals and longer-than-scheduled westbound flights.

In addition to delaying flights, the strong winds are actually forcing some nonstop flights to make refueling stops. In particular, Virgin America's transcontinental flights from New York's JFK, Newark (EWR) and Boston (BOS) to San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) have been plagued by these fuel stops. At least 27 westbound Virgin America transcontinental flights have had to make refueling stops over the last four days:

DateFlight #FromToDiverted to
Feb-151023JFKSFODenver (DEN)
Feb-151025JFKSFOAlbuquerque (ABQ)
Feb-151027JFKSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-151029JFKSFOSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-151193EWRSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-151195EWRSFOBillings (BIL)
Feb-151351BOSSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-151357BOSSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-151367BOSLAXNashville (BNA)
Feb-151399JFKLAXLas Vegas (LAS)
Feb-151413JFKLAXOklahoma City (OKC)
Feb-161023JFKSFOSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-161025JFKSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-161029JFKSFOSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-161193EWRSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-161351BOSSFOSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-161357BOSSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-161367BOSLAXDenver (DEN)
Feb-161399JFKLAXSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-161411JFKLAXSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-171027JFKSFOSalt Lake City (SLC)
Feb-171351BOSSFOBoise (BOI)
Feb-181023JFKSFOColorado Springs (COS)
Feb-181025JFKSFODenver (DEN)
Feb-181351BOSSFOColorado Springs (COS)
Feb-181357BOSSFODenver (DEN)
Feb-181367BOSLAXSt. Louis (STL)

Across these four days, one of the few times Virgin America completed a transcontinental flight without a fuel stop was when it swapped in an Airbus A321 for the flight from JFK-SFO:

JetBlue flight 1027 from New York's JFK to San Francisco (SFO). Data courtesy of FlightAware.

While Virgin America's A320s don't seem to be able to handle the transcontinental flights in these winds, JetBlue is still successfully operating nonstop transcontinental flights using an A320 to Palm Springs (PSP), Long Beach (LGB) and Burbank (BUR).

JetBlue flight 149 from New York's JFK to Palm Springs (PSP). Data courtesy of FlightRadar24.

Meanwhile, JetBlue's flights from BOS-SFO and JFK-SFO are still nonstop utilizing the airline's A321. However, with the strong winds, these flights are stretching to almost seven hours in the skies — longer than it'd take to fly from Boston to many European cities.

JetBlue flight 833 from Boston (BOS) to San Francisco (SFO). Data courtesy of FlightRadar24.

This problem is primarily affecting Virgin America at the moment, so you might want to book a nonstop flight on another airline if you can't afford to arrive late. As far as compensation, since these delays are due to strong winds, Virgin America is likely to point to the "force majeure" clause in its Contract of Carriage, which reads:

In the event of any Force Majeure event, Virgin America may, without notice, cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight or the right of carriage or reservation of traffic accommodations without liability except to issue an involuntary refund. The involuntary refund will be made in the original form of payment in accordance with involuntary refund rules for any unused portion of the ticket. Virgin America will also reserve the right to determine if any departure or landing should be made without any liability except the aforementioned involuntary refund.

That involuntary refund policy includes the following clause:

In the event of a flight cancellation, diversion, significant delay or a delay that will cause a guest to miss connections, Virgin America will, at the guest’s request, provide a credit to Travel Bank or refund (at the guest’s option), as described above.

So, unless the delay causes a missed connection, you're likely out of luck in getting any compensation from the delayed arrival. However, if your schedule is inflexible, you can contact the airline to see if you can cancel your flight and receive a full refund. And if your delay drags on longer than a few hours, you may be eligible for trip delay reimbursement from your credit card, so make sure you're booking flights with one that will cover you.

Update: Virgin America responded Sunday night to confirm that the "planned refueling stops are due to strong headwinds for the trans-con flights coming from the East Coast." The airline apologizes to passengers for the delays and has "offered compensation to our guests who were delayed."

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The original version of this article cited incorrect FlightAware data about the plane type operating JetBlue flights from Boston (BOS) to San Francisco (SFO) on flight 833. The aircraft type being used on this route is an Airbus A321 not an Airbus A320.