Today marks a special anniversary in the world of passenger aviation, with October 4th, 1958 being the date of the first jet-powered transatlantic commercial flight. With this achievement in mind, we thought we’d take a closer look at the variables at play when it comes to the speed at which a plane can cross this ocean.
A key factor is the aircraft being used. While modern jetliners are in a similar ballpark regarding speed, there used to be more variation. Indeed, this was particularly pronounced when the supersonic Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde airliner ruled the skies between Europe and North America.
Indeed, as Simple Flying explored earlier this year, scheduled flight times on the delta-winged jet’s transatlantic routes were in the region of three hours and 30 to three hours and 45 minutes. However, under certain conditions, it could fly even faster, with its New York-London record being 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds.
This is considerably quicker than the 10 hours and 20 minutes that, according to London Air Travel, BOAC‘s first transatlantic jet service took. That being said, it did make a 70-minute refueling stop in Gander en route. Today London-New York flights typically have block times of eight hours, with the return being closer to seven.
Concorde revolutionized transatlantic travel in the latter decades of the 20th century. Photo: Getty Images
The route in question
Of course, the exact route of a transatlantic flight also plays a role in dictating its length. While we have largely examined London-New York durations thus far, there are transatlantic city combinations with shorter distances between them.
For example, Aer Lingus flies from Shannon in western Ireland to Boston, with the Massachusetts city being further up the eastern seaboard than New York. These flights have a block time of just six hours and 55 minutes, with the return being even shorter, at six hours and five minutes. Meanwhile, Air Canada‘s Halifax-London Heathrow flights have block times of just six hours.
Looking further south, direct flights across the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America are in shorter supply. Examining a rare example of such a flight, we can see that TAAG Angola Airlines’ flights from its Luanda hub to São Paulo/Guarulhos have a scheduled block time of eight hours and 30 minutes.
Generous winds helped a BA Boeing 747 cross the Atlantic in under five hours in 2020. Photo: Getty Images
Direction and wind speed
You may have noticed that the eastbound legs of the routes discussed from North America to Europe are faster than those traveling in the opposite direction. This is because eastbound transatlantic flights benefit not from the earth’s rotation, but rather from jetstreams. These fast-flowing, high-altitude air currents help eastbound flights cross the Atlantic quicker than their westbound counterparts.
When strong eastbound winds blow over the Atlantic, these can combine with jetstreams to produce incredibly quick crossings. In February 2020, a British Airways Boeing 747 set a subsonic transatlantic speed record when, assisted by the winds of Storm Ciara, it flew from New York to London in four hours and 56 minutes. Needless to say, transatlantic jet travel has come a long way since 1958!
What has been your most memorable transatlantic flight? Do you enjoy fast crossings, or would you prefer to arrive well-rested and less early? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Source: London Air Travel