New User: Question about "roundabout flight paths



I just joined the FlightAware website last night, having not known this existed before. Pretty fun stuff, but I am puzzled by two things I’ve noticed regarding flight paths:

  1. A flight from Japan to Los Angeles managed to fly over the San Francisco Bay Area at 30,000+ feet, headed almost due south. If it was headed to L.A. on a non-stop from the Far East, why would it fly over S.F. to get to L.A.? Wouldn’t it make more sense to come into L.A. straight off the ocean?

  2. Tonight, I notice a Qantas flight #74 that is listed as KSFO to KSFO, just doing circles off the coast of California. Is this a mechanic “test flight” or some error in the system?



Welcome to Flight Aware.
Flights between LA and Japan usually go very close to SF since the great circle route goes that way. If you can find a polar projection map you will see what I mean.
Qantas 74 looks like it had a problem right after takeoff and circled to not only asses the problem but dump fuel to get down to landing weight.

Keep browsing the site there is lots of information around, the FAQs are a good place to start.

John in Saudi


B3burner, welcome to FA, you need to look at a globe to perceive how the actual great circle routes track over the oceans to get between cities. Take a piece of string and connect any two cities and you’ll see how the curvature of the earth requires a curved line of flight between cities.

Have a look at:

And specifically, look at this:

Leaving London for NYC one does not simply fly west!


Regarding Q74: You’re right. Apparently they had probs with the #4 engine-- it developed some sort of a hole and they had to fly back to SFO. Erie-- what are the odds that the second night I went on this site I actually found a real mishap as it was happening?

Thank you for the advice.

– John O’Flaherty (Oakland, CA)


Not surprising there was a diversion, they happen fairly regularly. The fact that you happened to find it is another story.

John in Saudi


Yes, I thought it somewhat coincidental.

#7 … id=7641459

The story to go along with your Qantas diversion.