Expect Delays Today As Airlines Are Being Routed Up to a Thousand Miles Off Course

May 23, 2019

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Coast-to-coast flights in the US typically take a fairly predictable route across the country. After all, as we learned in school, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And shorter routes typically mean faster flights and less fuel burn than going a roundabout way. However, wind and weather can sometimes force flights to take very different routes from day to day.

One of the most drastic examples of this is on the world’s longest flight between Newark and Singapore. Some days that flight flies the most direct route over the North Pole, sometimes it flies over central Europe and sometimes south of Japan.

Courtesy of Flightradar24.com

That’s a fairly extreme example. For flights between the US coasts, flight paths will vary a bit depending on the jet stream, but generally stay relatively the same. That’s why it was newsworthy in mid-April when coast-to-coast flights were flying over Florida, up to a thousand miles south of where those flights typically go.

And today, it’s happening again. The same Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control elements are in place again Thursday. As with last time, this is because of a line of severe convection acting as a blocker for coast-to-coast flights:

These two air traffic control advisories (FCAA08 and FCAOB1) are forcing airlines to take a very southerly route when flying coast-to-coast this afternoon.

The clearest example of just how far off the normal route airlines are flying can be seen in the United flights currently flying between Los Angeles and Newark. United flight 2041 was able to take a fairly normal transcontinental route, but later flights are routing across the heart of Texas to just north of New Orleans before heading north:

Courtesy of Flightradar24.com

But it’s not just United that’s having to route south. As of 2pm ET on Thursday, all transcontinental flights currently flying from the California to the Northeast are routing along this extraordinarily southerly route:

Courtesy of Flightradar24.com

Although this southerly route just went into effect this afternoon, weather is already causing some serious delays to US flights. As of 2:30pm ET Thursday, FlightAware has tracked over 3,400 US flight delays and more than 520 flight cancellations. And it’s not getting better anytime soon.

Based on the weather-related air traffic controls in place, the Air Traffic Control System Command Center forecasts the following average delays through late Thursday:

  • New York Kennedy (JFK): 166 minutes
  • Newark (EWR): 136 minutes
  • New York LaGuardia (LGA): 51 minutes

The air traffic control elements that are causing this southerly route are predicted to cause an average delay of 69 minutes.

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As weather is to blame for any delays caused by this routing, airlines likely aren’t going to cover lodging, ground transportation and meal expenses in the case of extended delays.

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