Express lane in the sky: How potent jet stream is speeding up transatlantic travel | Weather or Not

Lee Goldberg Image
Friday, November 3, 2023
Potent winds open express lane in the sky | Weather or Not explainer
A recent transatlantic flight going from JFK to Heathrow arrived an hour early because the plane was traveling nearly 800 miles an hour! Lee explains what's going on.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- There's something speedy in the air.

As WABC-TV Chief Meteorologist Lee Goldberg explains in our latest episode of "Weather or Not," flights from North America to Europe are benefiting from a rare phenomenon that's dramatically speeding up travel time.

For example, a recent transatlantic flight going from JFK to Heathrow arrived an hour early because the plane was traveling nearly 800 miles an hour at about 30,000 feet.

And the reason for that is the jet stream, which is amplified right now. Call it a "jet streak" that's broken out in these west-to-east upper-level winds.

What's interesting is that the jet stream is not unusually strong over the lower 48, but once you get over the open Atlantic, winds are almost 200 miles an hour heading toward the United Kingdom.

That powerful wind is at the back of these planes going eastward over the Atlantic, giving them a big push, and getting travelers to their destination early.

CNN cites remarkable examples of recent zippy air travel:

"In the past 24 hours, passenger aircraft traveling east from the US across the Atlantic have reached up to 778 mph. That's a little over 200 miles per hour faster than normal cruising speeds.

Emirates flight 222 from Dallas to Dubai arrived 57 minutes early on November 1, having reached a top speed of 675 knots, or 777 mph, off the coast of Newfoundland, according to flight tracking site Flightaware.

American Airlines flight 106 from JFK to Heathrow arrived 54 minutes early on Wednesday morning, with a flight time of just six hours and seven minutes. It reached a top speed of 778 mph, or 676 knots, also just past Newfoundland.
Meanwhile Delta flight 186 raced from Los Angeles to London with top speeds of 760mph, arriving half an hour early on November 1 at 1.08 p.m.

A KLM cargo plane which took off nearly four hours late on November 1 was due to arrive just under two hours late, traveling from Miami to Amsterdam."

So what's happening with the jet stream? It's not necessarily a climate-change issue, because in a warmer globe, sometimes you're not going to see as much temperature contrast, which can make the jet stream more sluggish.

But we can say this: This time of year, we experience a push-pull of tropical air masses colliding with Arctic outbreaks. Right now, we have cold air spilling across North America, and a relatively warmer Atlantic Ocean. These kinds of contrasts animate the jet stream and can drive some of those very strong winds.

To help us break it all down, "Weather or Not" has a special guest: Capt. Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot who is also a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association and for the pilot union for American Airlines.

He tells Lee that what is happening is rare, and beneficial to travelers flying east.

"It can be a real gift, when you're looking at the clock and getting someplace. If you're pointed in the right direction. You know, Mother Nature can be a real assistant in getting you there quicker," Tajer said. "But if you're coming back west, that maybe adds an hour to your flight. And aside from just the effect on the airplane, which we'll talk about, when you're thinking about, 'Oh, I've got to get a connecting flight when I land in New York, onward to a mid-continent destination.' So it can be the best of times and the worst of times."

Be sure to watch the full interview with Lee to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon.

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