Flying over the Pacific Ocean is avoided by most airlines for most flights because it usually doesn’t make sense to fly over it when shorter and safer routes exist.
The Pacific Ocean is also more remote and less safe than the Indian and Atlantic Oceans to fly over, resulting in a higher chance of a plane crashing.
While there are exceptions, most airlines, as part of their operations, don’t fly over the Pacific Ocean.
4 Reasons Why Planes Don’t Fly Over the Pacific Ocean
Most commercial airlines, that operate between East Asia and the Americas, do not fly over the Pacific Ocean because of cost and safety concerns, including turbulent weather, which can be dangerous to fly over.
This isn’t the only reason planes don’t fly over the Pacific Ocean, though.
1. Distance Consideration
Airlines prefer flying over “curved” routes over land instead of traversing oceans. Curved routes over land are generally shorter than straight routes over the ocean.
When a plane flies from the United States to Japan, for example, it’d have the shortest, and most fuel-efficient, flight from flying over a curved route over Canada and Alaska.
The concept of curved routes can be difficult to understand on a flat map, but it soon becomes clear if you look at a globe map.
2. Cost and Time Savings
Curved routes also help reduce flight operating costs, thereby reducing ticket prices for consumers and keeping air travel more affordable.
Choosing to not fly over the Pacific Ocean saves airlines both fuel and time, which ultimately increases airlines’ profitability and is great for passengers who pay less money for tickets and spend less time in a plane.
From a practical standpoint, it makes sense for all airlines operating in East Asia and the Americas to not fly over the Pacific Ocean.
3. Weather Patterns
Most flights are planned to minimize the time spent over bodies of water, since storms are more likely to occur over water than land.
The weather over the Pacific Ocean is often turbulent, and there are many thunderstorms in parts of the Pacific, so it’s not a safe environment to fly a plane.
Routes overland from Canada and Alaska are preferred for most flights from the Americas to East Asia since the weather there is calmer. The Pacific Ocean is just not ideal for air travel.
4. Jet Streams
Another reason why planes don’t fly over the Pacific Ocean is due to jet streams, which are a set of air currents that circle the Earth several miles above the planet’s surface.
These air currents predominantly flow West to East because of the Earth’s rotation.
Flying in the same direction as a jet stream can save time and fuel for an aircraft, but flying against one causes dangerous turbulence and potential damage to an aircraft.
The Polar Jet Stream path goes overland Canada and Alaska, which is the same route most flights in that region take.
How Safe is it to Fly Over the Pacific Ocean?
When flying over a vast body of water, like the Pacific Ocean, there is no safe place for an emergency landing.
So, in that aspect, it isn’t safe to fly over the Pacific Ocean.
Rescuers would stand very little chance of tracking down and rescuing members of a plane that crashed in the Pacific Ocean, assuming anyone onboard somehow even managed to survive such a crash landing in the first place.
Most airlines therefore prefer to fly over land for this reason, as it’s safer to crash land on solid ground, preferably near an airport where emergency services are available.
2 Exceptions to Planes Flying Over the Pacific Ocean
1. Transpacific Flights
A transpacific flight is when an aircraft flies across the Pacific Ocean from either Asia or Australia to the Americas or vice versa.
Transpacific flights are not as common as transatlantic ones, but transpacific flights have been commercially available since the 1930s.
The Boeing 747 is one of the major planes used in transpacific flights because of its large passenger capacity and fuel efficiency, which allow it to fly continuously over the Pacific Ocean.
Thanks to recent innovations in aviation technology, even twin-engine planes are sometimes used for commercial transpacific flights.
Aircraft like the Airbus A320, Boeing 737, and Boeing 787 are also all increasingly used for transpacific flights. Most of these planes fly to destinations like Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia.
2. Pacific Ocean Countries
Of course, when flying from or to countries and regions that are located in the Pacific Ocean, such as New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu etc. there is no avoiding the Pacific Ocean.
How Long Does it Take to Fly Over the Pacific Ocean?
The time it takes to fly over the Pacific Ocean largely depends on the aircraft, its origin, destination, weather conditions and fuel efficiency.
If we suppose that a Boeing 747 plane flies from LA to Tokyo, it would take at least 11 to 12 hours on average to complete the flight.
It could take much longer if weather conditions are bad, or if the destination and starting location are much further apart.
Smaller planes would take longer to cross the Pacific Ocean since they’d have to refuel in places like Hawaii which are located in the Pacific Ocean.
Related: Related: What Do Pilots Do On Long Flights?
Planes More Commonly Fly Over the Atlantic Ocean
Flights over the Atlantic Ocean are more common since it is less remote, and there’s greater demand for travel over the Atlantic than the Pacific Ocean.
Transatlantic flights involve traversing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, to the Americas, or vice versa.
Transatlantic flights are common, with over 2,000 transatlantic flights taking place every day.
Of these 2,000 flights a day, on average, 41 will be from Heathrow Airport in London to John. F Kennedy airport in New York City.
Planes Also Fly Over the Indian Ocean
Many of the world’s most famous airlines offer economy flights to popular destinations in and around the Indian Ocean.
Some of the most popular airlines for trans Indian Ocean flights are Emirates Airlines, Air India, and British Airways who fly towards India, Australia, the Maldives and Malaysia.
Planes Rarely Fly Over Antarctica
Due to the Antarctica’s lack of infrastructure and virtually non-existent population, as well as extreme weather conditions, there are no commercial flight routes over Antarctica.
However, in limited cases, research oriented, military, rescue, and scenic tourism flights occasionally fly over Antarctica.