United Continental trans-Atlantic flights with smaller Boeing 757 jets are making more unscheduled fuel stops because of stronger headwinds...

Share story

United Continental trans-Atlantic flights with smaller Boeing 757 jets are making more unscheduled fuel stops because of stronger headwinds on the planes’ longest routes.

Westbound flights in December faced winds almost twice as fast compared with the average over the past decade, forcing 43 flights out of 1,100 to land and refuel, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based airline. Only 12 jets needed fuel stops a year earlier, she said Wednesday.

“There have been fuel stops on some flights we have flown all along, and it does continue into January because the winds have continued into January,” McCarthy said. “We’re looking at this very closely.”

A “handful” of December fuel stops were planned before jets left Europe, McCarthy said.

The airports typically used for refueling are in eastern Canadian cities such as Gander, Newfoundland, and Goose Bay, Labrador, or Boston, she said.

The North Atlantic’s prevailing winds come from the west, which means that flights to the U.S. from Europe already are usually longer than eastbound trips.

Newer, more-efficient planes have reduced the need for scheduled fill-ups, which were more common in the early days of jet aviation.

All of the December stops were for Boeing 757-200 jets flown by United Continental’s Continental unit on routes such as Stuttgart, Germany, to Newark, N.J., which is about 4,540 miles, and the planes depart with full fuel tanks, McCarthy said.