Unexpected Fuel Stops, Inconvenience and Delays: Should Boeing 757 Aircraft Be Used on Transatlantic Flights?

A Boeing 757-200 operated by Continental Airlines before its merger with United Airlines.

In recent months, transatlantic Continental Airlines flights using Boeing 757 aircraft between North America and Europe have been forced to take unexpected stops for fuel upon encountering unusually strong headwinds while attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean, adding as much as two extra hours on return segments and increasing diversion rates.

Although United Airlines — the airline with which Continental Airlines has merged — is legally operating the Boeing 757 aircraft on transatlantic flights within their range of 4,000 nautical miles, it is just barely within that range — and that works when weather conditions are ideal, such as with a tail wind. As evidenced in recent months when weather has not been ideal — such as with unusually strong headwinds — the Boeing 757 does not work and therefore may need to land unexpectedly to refuel.

How would you like to be on what is touted as a non-stop flight, only to have the aircraft unexpectedly stop for fuel?

While United Airlines could be commended for taking fuel stops for the safety of its passengers, I have to wonder if the fuel stops — which can cost the airline thousands of dollars in landing fees — as well as compensation to unhappy passengers who missed connecting flights and providing passengers with overnight hotel accommodations are worth the savings of operating a Boeing 757 aircraft on its transatlantic routes instead of using an aircraft with longer range capabilities.

Additionally, it is difficult to quantify how many customers opted for being passengers on competing airlines using aircraft with longer range capabilities on similar routes, resulting in lost revenue and possible damaged loyalty to United Airlines and Continental Airlines.

Then again, some FlyerTalk members extol the virtues of the use of Boeing 757 aircraft for transatlantic flights, citing such reasons as its in-flight entertainment system, significantly quicker boarding and deplaning of passengers, and significantly faster baggage handling.

Is it worth the gamble by the airline for the cost savings? What do you think?

In the meantime — for your listening pleasure — I present to you a Herman’s Hermits song whose title resonates with the sentiments of a number of FlyerTalk members regarding being a passenger on a transatlantic Continental Airlines flight using a Boeing 757 aircraft from Europe to North America while enduring strong headwinds:

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Comments (Showing 7 of 7)

  • ThatJohn at 11:24pm January 23, 2012

    How would you like to be on what is touted as a non-stop flight, only to have the aircraft unexpectedly stop for fuel?

    Fine. As someone who flies TATL frequently, I’d rather have more direct TATL services to Europe’s regional airports, even if they have to stop for an hour westbound to slurp up some fuel, than have these routes pulled and have to fly via FRA, CDG or LHR, or even AMS or MUC.

    Now, what I’d like is for them to have an arrangement with Gander or somewhere to pre-process passengers through US Immigration when they have to stop, even if it’s just J (and status?) passengers. Like the LCY-JFK shuttle, but better. That’d win them a lot of fans, I reckon.

  • Canarsie at 7:21am January 24, 2012

    That is definitely a good argument for the Boeing 757 service, and the idea for the pre-processing service for passengers through United States immigration in Gander and other places where fuel stops are conducted would save time at the conclusion of the flight. Should United Airlines be up-front with its customers regarding the possibility of a stop on the westbound transatlantic flights on some of its routes?

  • feilong787 at 6:55pm January 25, 2012

    Delta uses 757’s durning the summer on flights to Europe
    Having flown on one to ZUR from JFK. with no problems.
    I did notice that during the winter months, they do fly the 767

  • epo57 at 7:39pm January 25, 2012

    To be able to fly directly to/from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Bristol, etc. is so much more convenient than connecting in LHR or taking a bus or train to/from London that it is more than worth a small risk of a two hour delay mid-winter.

    (I am aware that CO no longer flies to/from Bristol; it was great when then did.)

  • Imelda at 12:23am January 26, 2012

    I flew nonstop on a CO 757 IAD-CDG in December. (I flew back CDG-MUC-SFO on LH A340.) I was surprised to see 757s used on that route because I did not think they had the range. I can’t say I’m shocked that they aren’t making it all the way back. I live on the West Coast and if I missed my return connection because of an unscheduled refueling event I’d be pretty annoyed. Obviously it’s better to stop than to press through on fumes, but maybe they should just give up on flying 757s on these routes, or else just acknowledge that it’s not a nonstop anymore, schedule the fuel stop, and let me schedule my connection with some kind of reasonable confidence that I’ll make it.

  • AlwaysFlyStar at 4:47pm February 17, 2012

    I would much rather connect than take a 57 transatlantic. Besides, what are the alliances for, if not to allow us to connect to all of the smaller places around the world. That said, I do understand the appeal of the pre-clearance stops, and know a good deal of people who have done the “Shannon Shuffle” but I personally tend to prefer larger planes. (And I don’t tend to fly the American carriers when I fly internationally.)

  • Max Klim at 3:31am July 17, 2012

    there’s a long history of refueling stops in wintertime on CONTINENTAL flights out of Central Europe (Germany)
    it never bothered me to have a walk and some fresh air on a TRANSATLANTIC
    until some stupid fuelguy made the fuel nozzle stuck on the 757 somewhere in the middle of nowhere
    a 3+ hours delay on a full fare flight is some kind of a nuissance
    I fly AIR FRANCE and AIRBERLIN nonstop since then

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