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It Really Is Faster To Fly From West To East, But Not For The Reasons You Might Think

It can often feel as if flying from west to east takes far less time than vice versa, and there is actually a scientific explanation for that.

There are some trips that seem to go a lot more quickly than others despite them being over the same distance. A number of factors can play into that. You might be looking forward to going on holiday so much that the flight seems to take forever, and dreading returning home so much that the trip back goes by in the blink of an eye. The time of day at which you travel can also play a part.

The direction in which you are traveling can also make a trip longer or shorter. In that case, it just doesn't just feel shorter, it actually is. In time that is, not in distance. There's an urban myth that the shorter trip is caused by the rotation of the Earth. That since the Earth rotates eastward, planes heading west will travel faster as the planet rotates beneath the aircraft.

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via CNBC

That's not true since every part of the planet is being rotated eastward. That includes the atmosphere and the planes flying within it. So actually, the Earth's rotation really makes flying from east to west slower. Travel + Leisure likens it to trying to walk against a strong wind.

The real reason flights from west to east are quicker is down to jet streams. Jet streams are air pockets high up in the Earth's atmosphere which move in a wavy pattern from west to east. Should a plane find itself in a jet stream then it will travel at a faster speed with greater ease. A Virgin Atlantic flight managed to reach a speed of 801 mph while traveling from New York to London thanks to a jet stream over the Atlantic Ocean.

So there you have it. It wasn't all in your head, some trips do actually take a lot less time even though they take place over the same distance. It just depends on which direction your flight is headed, and whether it gets caught up in a jet stream. Yes, the Earth's rotation plays a part too, but only a minor one.

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