FlightAware Discussions

Flight routes and tail winds

Hi, I’m new to this forum, forgive what may be stupid questions. I’ve been tracking Etihad Airways flight 131 from Abu Dhabi to Dulles (IAD) today, 10/24/2013, just for grins. I track things based on the planes I like coming into Dulles as I’m on their flight path and they fly on top of me and I love to know who/what they are. It’s route is bizarre to me and I’m sure someone is going to say it’s because of tail winds. So, how on earth can flying what has to be 4k miles around save time, fuel, or anything else by going that many miles out of the way? Today it went up and over to Finland, then Greenland, then Quebec before it turned and headed south to Dulles. Seems crazy to me, like they could take an hour or 2 off the flight if they just flew a straight line across. All the European flights do similar things and I just don’t get it. Clue me in would you? Thanks, karen

At least part of the explanation is related to the difference between looking at a flat map and an actual globe. Try stretching a string from the Departure to the Destination on a Globe. The actual course over the Globe is called a Great Circle Route, which is the shortest distance between two points.

Other factors are related to the Jet Stream Headwinds on a Westbound flight, which could be up to 150-200 miles per hour, the East Bound North Atlantic Track system, which could be counter to the flight plan of the flight to USA.


A most surprising phenomenon! Not only the flight route of ET131 but also the fact that I stumbled across your post as I was tracking for the same flight today (my brother was traveling) and wanted to understand myself what is going on with this flight.

I checked flightaware for the first time and just made couple of clicks on discussion and opened this discussion about the same flight.

The reason for this flight route the way it is shortest route between two points on earth is not a straight line on a flat map, but an arc which is shortest on the globe.

See this link: