Westbound Inconvenience: Why 757s are prone to transatlantic fuel stops

You’re flying along, looking out at the sky, and everything seems to be going smoothly. Suddenly, the captain comes on and makes an announcement, saying something along the lines of “we’re going to be diverting due to weather at our destination.” A collective groan falls over the cabin, and the plane begins an unexpected descent.

Having been on two different diverted flights, I’ve had this experience firsthand. And while I do enjoy the opportunity to add another landing (and takeoff) to my flight log, I can’t say I enjoy having my routine interrupted. Particularly when it comes to travel, I don’t like surprises — I prefer things to be predictable. Of course, this isn’t something you can prevent, so I’ve learned to get with it, whatever happens. Both of the diversions I’ve encountered have been due to weather. However, while it is the cause of a significant number of diversions, weather isn’t the only culprit: security issues, mechanical anomalies, and fuel are a few of the many causes that can send people to places they hadn’t planned on going.

Transatlantic Fuel Stops Fuel the Fire

Fuel, in particular, has caused a number of diversions in recent years — particularly with Boeing 757s flying westbound transatlantic flights. As the largest narrowbody aircraft, the 757 has a range of around 4,400 miles, which makes it comfortably suitable for transatlantic operations. A number of different medium-range, “thin” routes which wouldn’t be profitable with a widebody aircraft are possible thanks to the 757. Indeed, it makes a number of routes possible in similar fashion to the way the Boeing 787 makes long, “thin” routes more than just a pipe dream.

However, the 757 has also drawn the ire of a number of transatlantic travelers — particularly in the winter months. During that time, the headwinds of the jetstream are at their strongest, meaning that planes need more fuel than usual to compensate. And while widebodies generally don’t have an issue with this, the 757 doesn’t have the same fuel capacity that those larger planes do. Their range is usually good enough to make a transatlantic crossing without much issue, but they are much more prone to fuel diversions than their larger counterparts.

This frustration was the subject of a 2015 piece on Mashable, titled Why choosing the right airplane type is crucial in the wintertime. There are a number of other pieces, too, on the subject, including a piece in the Wall Street Journal, but those are behind a paywall. Regardless, the Mashable piece raises a number of interesting points, particularly that many simply choose the cheapest flight, regardless of other factors. This can be a dangerous game to play — and, in the case of a business traveler who needs to be somewhere at a given time, it can mean missing an obligation. Of course, that’s a dramatization, but I think my point is clear.

Not All Flights Are Equal

Some flights are more prone to diversions than others. For example, a sector that is around 3,000 miles in length, such as Aer Lingus’ Shannon, Ireland to Boston route (2,891 miles), does not see an incredible number of diversions. Start talking about routes in the neighborhood of 4,000 miles, however, and it’s a different story. This summer, AA203, a flight from Amsterdam to Philadelphia (3,715 miles) diverted to Bangor, ME a number of times. This fall, AA55, which goes from Manchester, England to Chicago O’Hare (3,826 miles) stops in Bangor with some regularity.

Sometimes, the carrier realizes before the flight that it isn’t able to make it on a full tank, and informs passengers of the impending disruption. And while it’s a nice gesture, as diversion-related surprises are not fun for most passengers, I can imagine it’s incredibly frustrating to be told of an impending diversion, whether in the air or on the ground.

Use Your Judgement

I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from flying transatlantic on a 757. On a number of routes, it’s the only aircraft that makes service viable — and for those routes, I would say absolutely take it. Moreover, the chance of having a fuel stop are far from a sure thing. That said, if there are other options at a comparable price when you are traveling, I might encourage you to think twice before taking a westbound 757 in the winter.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: November 2, 2016

Norwegian Index for November 2, 2016: 300.0

The Norwegian Index is up, but prices across the Hump Day Fare Hacks board are down. Headlined by the cheapest Boston to London Heathrow flight I’ve ever seen at $460 round trip on British Airways, this week features a number of exceptional legacy deals. More impressive flights profiled this week Delta Air Lines and KLM offering JFK-AMS for $437, BOS-ZRH on Swiss Airlines for $448, and United Airlines selling EWR-SNN for $456.

Hump Day Fare Hacks will be going on hiatus for a bit, as I travel to China in three days (yikes!), but I fully intend to return to blogging after I get back! Who knows – maybe fares will plummet even more in that time.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

BOSTON

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 4, 11, 18, 25

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $317

Thoughts: Supah wicked cheap, guy!

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1, 6, 15

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $325

Thoughts: A pretty exceptional price, but while the face value is lower you will get more with the fare listed immediately below – I may be slightly biased. However, if you travel light and plan on bringing your own food/water/etc., then this may be the deal for you.

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • November 30
  • December 1-14, 29, 31
  • January (2017) 2-6, 8-31
  • February (2017) 1-16, 19-28
  • March 1-24

Carrier: British Airways
Price: $460

Thoughts: When BOS-LHR went below $500 a while ago – being priced at $499.96 – I thought that was for sure the low-water mark, as it was known to hover around $500-$501. This, however, was totally unexpected, and I must say that $460 for a non stop between these two cities – on a four-star airline like British Airways – is truly remarkable and an excellent value.

Boston – Oslo

Leave on:

  • March 27, 2017 (return April 4, 2017)
  • April 24, 2017 (return May 2, 2017)
  • May 22, 2017 (return May 30, 2017)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $294

Thoughts: Same low fares as last week, which means that this is still an exceptional price.

Boston – Zurich

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 8-11, 18, 19, 23-27, 29, 30
  • May (2017) 1-4, 6-10

Carrier: Swiss Airlines
Price: $448

Thoughts: It’s funny – this route goes for well in excess of $1,000 during the winter, but is less than $500 during the spring? #logic

NEW YORK

New York JFK – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • March (2017) 28-31

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, KLM
Price: $437

Thoughts: What I didn’t include here is that – for just a dollar more – there are significantly more dates available on this route during the winter. However, this is certainly the low-water mark, so get it while you can!

Newark – Manchester

Leave on:

  • January 31, 2017
  • February (2017) 1-10, 12-18, 21-28
  • March (2017) 1-8, 10-22

Carriers: United Airlines
Price: $517

Thoughts: For the first time in recent memory, flights from New York to Manchester are cheaper than anything between New York and London Heathrow. (Puzzled face).

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 13, 17, 19, 24
  • February 7, 2017

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $282

Thoughts: $15 off of last week and a match for JFK-ARN. Could this fare overtake (in the downward direction) the aforementioned route? Watch this space.

Newark – Shannon

Leave on:

  • November 25, 28, 30
  • December 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14
  • January (2017) 6, 9, 11, 13, 20, 23, 25, 27, 30
  • February (2017) 3, 6, 10, 13, 24
  • March (2017) 1, 3, 6, 8, 15

Carrier: United Airlines
Price: $456

Thoughts: If either major Irish destination from the U.S. breaks $500, it’s usually Shannon rather than Dublin. Even so, this is still exceptionally low.

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 3, 6

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $282

Thoughts: $2 down from last week, and with another available date. Expect both of those metrics to continue to move in a positive direction.