British Airways flies record-breaking sub-5-hour flight from New York to London

Feb 10, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information. It was originally published on 7 February 2020.

On Friday we told you about the 200-mile-per-hour jet stream over the Atlantic Ocean that was set to propel a strong storm toward Ireland and the United Kingdom over the weekend, according to Weather.com. The system, named Storm Ciara, bought strong winds — up to 80 mph — and rain to the region late Saturday night into Sunday. It will make its way to other parts of Europe on Monday. Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the northern regions of France, Germany and Denmark, could be hit the hardest.

But the storm was actually a boon for travellers headed from the U.S. East Coast to the U.K. The jet stream helped push aircraft to some of the fastest speeds we’ve seen.

In fact, British Airways’ flight 112 from New York-JFK to London-LHR on Saturday, 8 February achieved the fastest subsonic flight duration ever. The route clocked in at just 4 hours and 56 minutes according to the data collected by FlightRadar24. The average flight time for that route is usually 6 hours and 13 minutes. During the flight, the Boeing 747-436 aircraft reached speeds of 800 mph.

Image courtesy of FlightRadar24
Image courtesy of FlightRadar24

The wind also shaved 51 minutes off the average flight time of BA238 on February 8, a Boeing 777-236ER flying from Boston to LHR with onward service to Dublin.

Image courtesy of FlightRadar24
Image courtesy of FlightRadar24

The World Meteorology Organization defines a jet stream as, A strong, narrow current … characterized by strong vertical and lateral wind shears ….” Jet streams flow from west to east, which is why flights from Europe to North America take longer than those heading in the opposite direction. Pilots can take advantage of jet streams by flying as close to the centre of the stream as possible.

Remember that Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR) that flew over 800 mph back in 2019? Thank the jet stream for that.

This weekend, pilots took advantage of a similar phenomenon. Here’s what happens: Most commercial aircraft fly at jet stream level. Most planes fly approximately 550 mph (without wind), so the jet stream helps eastbound flights fly faster — occasionally shaving an hour off your flight. This time around, though, the rare 200 mph tailwind will speed them up even more so.

That’s why the New York City to London flight took just shy of five hours. Who needs supersonic flights when you have wind?

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No such luck for travellers flying in the opposite direction, though. Those flights fought headwinds and were up to two and half-hours longer than normal.

Featured photo by fanjianhua/Getty Images.

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