According in an article in the Wall St. Journal, dozens of Continental Airlines flights from Europe to the United States East Coast are being forced to make unexpected stops in Canada, and elsewhere, to take re fuel after running into unusually strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean.
The winds from the west have been exceptionally strong in the past few months, causing delays and inconvenience for thousands of passengers in recent weeks. Another part of the problem is the decision by United Continental to use smaller jets on a growing number of long, trans-Atlantic routes. It works fine when the winds are calm.
The smaller jets, Boeing 757s, use less fuel and fewer crew members, though they have fewer seats as well, but they are pretty much at their limit of a 4,000 nautical-mile range. This leaves little room for error when the winds are strong and increase the fuel burn for the two engine planes.
In December, United reported the 757s had to stop 43 times out of nearly 1,100 flights headed to the US. The resulting delays can cause passengers to miss connections, have forced overnight stays in hotels and involves passenger compensation. Most of the stops have been in Iceland, Ireland, and Albany and Steward have also received some of the flights. The headwinds are the strongest in at least 10 years, and are caused by El Nina.