I was having an interesting conversation this weekend with my friend David about our mutual friend Stacy and her husband Aaron about their flight home. I’ve never actually had to make a fuel stop but I know plenty of folks who have. For those who don’t quite follow, a fuel stop is exactly what it sounds like. Generally speaking, it’s when your plan doesn’t have enough range (total fuel capacity) to reach a destination and needs to stop to refuel. It can also happen when the plane takes on less than max fuel and conditions change. In this case, I assume the plane was full of fuel when they pushed back from the gate.
They were flying American Airlines from Boston to LAX. That trip is about 2,600 miles (nautical miles). The range of the 737-800 they were flying on should be around 3,000 nm. No problem, right? There was a bit of a breeze.
Winds of almost 200 mph were being reported through the jetstream, pretty much right across the nose of any plane daring to fly from the Northeast to points West. The image is from Intellicast which has a bunch of good data. I don’t know what you’d refer to as a “normal” velocity in the jetstream, but this is a much more normal picture.
There’s still a bit of red there, but the wind velocity is a lot less. The jetstream is the primary reason that flights from the West coast to the East coast take less time than flights in the other direction. Not only aren’t you fighting the jetstream, you’re getting pushed across the country when you’re flying East.
The jetstream discussion was interesting. But, the timing of the whole flight was interesting as well. I spent a few minutes looking at the stats for the flight online. The flight was scheduled to land shortly before 1pm in LAX. It pushed back from the gate 13 minutes late in Boston. Then, they had the planned diversion to Chicago for fuel.
American has a big hub in Chicago. That makes it a somewhat likely stop for fuel. ORD is a tough airport to get around quickly for airplanes. Unsurprisingly, they were on the ground almost an hour to take on fuel. Given that, plus the earlier delay, you had to figure they would be pretty late once you build in time to land and takeoff, getting back on their flight path to LAX.
They landed about 45 minutes late. Which means a combination of schedule padding (allotting more time to fly the route than is needed) and the pilot hauling ass to LAX. I was curious if they encountered a bumpy flight. Aaron and Stacy both reported a fairly uneventful flight.
Mother Nature Rules The Roost
This was a fun reminder of how much is out of our control when we fly. Most flights land on-time (and safely). Every once in a while, mother nature decides to take us for a ride on her terms. In this case, Aaron and Stacy still made their connecting flight. No harm, no foul.
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