Why Your Flight to Europe Goes North Instead of East

Posted in In the Air

Ever wondered why your flight that departs from New York to Paris heads north instead of east? So did Reddit user normp571. Luckily, other Reddit users were quick to weigh in and the answer (which you may already know if you’re cartographically-inclined) has to do with the shape of the Earth itself.

Not to get too geeky about it, but here’s the best representation of how our planet looks from the point of view of a route scheduler:


As such, you can see that flights follow the whole “the Earth is round” flight plan, meaning that flights aren’t necessarily flying due north but rather in an arc following the shape of the planet in as close to a straight line as possible since that’s the shortest distance between two points. That northernly route you questioned? It’s less north than it is straight.

This also explains why, as another Redditor points out, Maine is the closest US state to Africa in air miles.

The whole discussion is right over here. Mystery solved!


  1. I seem to recall learning this in elementary school in the 1960s. This speaks volumes to the state of what passes for education in the US.

    Now, a bonus question. Why does a long haul flight from A to B travelling west take less time than the return from B to A travelling east? Assume the same flight path. Hint: it has little to do with wind.

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