Does flying east to west generally take longer than west to east in America?

  • I noticed for a particular round-trip that the portion from the east coast to the west was scheduled to take over an hour longer than the return trip. I initially thought this was a mistake due to time zone or daylight-savings time oddities, but that does not appear to be the case.

    I know there are a number of variables that can affect flight time (type of jet, winds, even potentially rotation of the Earth itself), so I was wondering if this sort of thing is typical. This particular instance happens to use the same model plane for both trips and is non-stop, so most factors seem to be controlled for aside from east-west vs. west-east. Is the longer flight a good candidate to arrive early (or is the shorter flight a good candidate to arrive late)?

    Edit: I recognize from this question that winds are likely to be the dominant factor, but that still does not answer my question. I'm specifically asking about the USA and I don't know what sorts of winds are typical (or whether or not it depends largely on southwest vs. northwest, etc.).

    @KateGregory I read that question and still don't have an answer to my question, therefore it cannot be an exact duplicate. I recognize that winds are a major factor (I suspected this when I asked), but I don't know what sorts of winds are typical when traveling between coasts in the USA (note that "USA" tag).

    I'd like to see the two questions combined. Especially since the answer is the same for "Australia to Europe" as it is for "from one side of North America to the other" - and would also apply to "from North America to Europe" etc etc.

    @KateGregory I don't think it makes sense to combine the two questions. East-west travel in temperate latitudes is dominated by the jet stream; this is what this question is fundamentally about. A question on NA<->Europe would be a duplicate of this one, but not a question that involves north-south travel or subtropical travel, where the dominant winds are very different.

  • Affable Geek

    Affable Geek Correct answer

    9 years ago

    As Mark Mayo's answer shows, wind is the primary determinant of the difference in speed.

    The jet stream is a prevailing wind that typically is going somewhere over the United States, and runs typically from the West Coast to the East Coast. As such, there is a prevailing headwind (-mph) going east to west and a prevailing tailwind (+mph) going west to east.

    The path of the jet stream is highly variable (its usually shown on weather maps, because it is the primary determinant of weather), but can be usually thought of as a U shaped curve that on average goes from say, Oregon, south to Texas, and back up to say, Pennsylvania. How deep it goes, and how far north or south it is on any given day, can be off by several states. That's also why flight times can vary so much from the printed value.

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