Travel times for flights across the Atlantic Ocean are getting shorter, enabling travelers to arrive quicker and more refreshed. On average, flight time for the popular New York to London route is five and three-quarter hours. A far cry from the first transatlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh, which took over 33 hours in 1923!
Recently, a Norwegian Air flight broke the subsonic record for this flight, arriving in London Gatwick five hours and nine minutes after take-off from New York JFK. At some points in the flight, the plane, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, was traveling at a velocity of 799 miles per hour! Interestingly, one of the pilots of the Norwegian Air flight, Capt. Harold van Dam, reported that he could have made even better time, but refrained from doing so because of turbulence at a lower altitude than he was flying.
The reason has less to do with improvements in jet design and more to do with the doings of mother nature. According to research at the University of Arizona, it appears that the jet stream in the northern hemisphere has become more vigorous than it was several decades ago. Faster winds in the high-altitude jet stream enable pilots to position their aircraft within the sweet-spot for efficient tailwinds. Of course, these conditions are only favorable for flights traveling from west to east, with and not against the jet stream.
According to climate scientists, climate change has influenced the jet stream significantly, causing a substantial increase in extreme weather events. As a byproduct of this, the jet stream is moving faster, providing a benefit for air travelers.
When the supersonic Concorde still flew the skies, transatlantic travel times were even shorter. With the Concorde, flights from New York to London finished in approximately three hours. Unfortunately for today’s travelers, this super-speedy service, begun in 1976, was discontinued in 2003 for economic reasons: over the long haul, it never made a profit.
Even today in a post-Concorde era, quicker transatlantic flights are possible. The New York City to London route is considered the benchmark for northern hemisphere transatlantic flights. Even faster service is available from Boston as well as some Canadian maritime airports to selected destination cities in Ireland and the United Kingdom.