Why Don’t Planes Fly Over The Pacific Ocean?

Have you ever seen the flight patterns of flights from Japan to the United States? They never go directly across the Pacific Ocean to get to, say, San Francisco. They take a curved pattern that brings them, if not over Canada, then near it.

JALMap.gif
PC: JAL

The same goes for fights between, for example, Los Angeles and Beijing – they take an upward curve route that hugs Canada, Alaska, Russia, etc., before reaching its destination in China.

So what’s up with that? Why don’t planes fly over the Pacific Ocean?

Well, of course, SOME planes fly over the Pacific. Lots of them, really. I mean, there’s no way you can get to Hawaii from anywhere else without flying over the ocean. Flights between the U.S. & Australia or New Zealand go directly over the Pacific waters, too. But if you’re more north and plan to fly somewhere that’s more north? It definitely looks like a roundabout way of getting there, doesn’t it?

In a nutshell, it all has to do with saving time, saving fuel, distance, safety, and a few other factors. Watch this:

Pretty interesting, huh?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

3 thoughts on “Why Don’t Planes Fly Over The Pacific Ocean?”

  1. plenty of them fly from SE Asia straight to West Coast going EAST, but not going West. This has to do with jetstreams. They catch the jetstream going TO America, but avoid it and follow the great circle going FROM America. That’s why flights coming back home are often 1-2hr faster. Check out some flightaware tracks to/from HKG or SIN

    1. The shortest routes are called great circle routes. The best way to understand the great circle is to stretch a rubber band over a globe – you will see that although between 2 points the band is straight the band describes an arc on the Globe.

  2. What rick b said, I’ve tracked plenty of flights that cut right across the open Pacific in order to take advantage of an eastbound jet stream. Great circle is shorter and is less likely to find a westbound flight fighting a 100+ knot head wind than you’d find a mid-latitudes over the ocean.

    Also, every single nonstop flight between Australia/New Zealand and North or South America flies over an incredible expanse of Pacific Ocean. Especially the Santiago or Buenos Aires to A/NZ flights.

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