JFK<->HKG no longer polar flights?

Old Aug 17, 20, 6:25 am
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Question JFK<->HKG no longer polar flights?

I was looking for flights going over the North Pole, and remembered that CX 841/844 flights usually take that route. I checked out the recent routes from flightradar24 (free version) to have an idea how close to the pole they get. To my surprise, none of the recent flights went over the arctic ocean. In fact they all carefully avoided mainland China and Russian airspace in either direction. Does anyone know the explanation for such strange routing?
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Old Aug 17, 20, 7:05 am
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Without knowing the exact reason, here is some background on overflight fees.

The first routes over the North Pole were Polar One and Polar Two which tracked over Russian Federation and China airspace opening up these shorter routes. However these are very expensive in terms of overflight fees, which in the Russian case I believe goes straight into the pocket of Aeroflot. There is some interesting background information on the internet.

I have done the commute HKG-NYC-HKG on more occasions than I care for, and quite often the HKG-NYC eastbound has taken the route shown on flightradar, and rarely gone over the North Pole. However for the return NYC-HKG it has occasionally gone polar but more often flies Northeast over Greenland then onwards to Spitzbergen, crosses the Barents Sea north of the North Cape, over Novaya Zemlya ('famous' for the site of the largest ever nuke explosion 'Tsar Bomba'), before heading southeast towards Siberia, Xinjiang onwards to HK.

The Russians can play funny sometimes (ask American Airlines). Also it is at this time of year the PLA Air Force conduct their major exercises, especially in the Nanjing Military Region, which could be a contributing factor in planning routes. These usually continue on until mid-November.
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Last edited by Nicc HK; Aug 17, 20 at 7:10 am
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Old Aug 17, 20, 8:26 am
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It is about jet stream. Airlines can save fuel with the help of it, or sometimes they have to find an optimum route to avoid it. Sometimes JFK-HKG flights will fly to the east right after take-off and cross the Atlantic and the Europe.
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Old Aug 17, 20, 12:02 pm
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Originally Posted by Reply1984 View Post
It is about jet stream. Airlines can save fuel with the help of it, or sometimes they have to find an optimum route to avoid it. Sometimes JFK-HKG flights will fly to the east right after take-off and cross the Atlantic and the Europe.
I had a HKG YYZ flight which hit land around YVR, landed almost one hour ahead.
Pilot friends say you set the plane into the jet stream and it gets blown to your destination.
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Old Aug 17, 20, 5:16 pm
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It's all about the winds aloft. Currently they are favoring lower latitudes.
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Old Aug 17, 20, 7:32 pm
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Originally Posted by 757FO View Post
It's all about the winds aloft. Currently they are favoring lower latitudes.
I am curious (I am a non-commercial pilot), but would winds aloft explain westbound NYC-HKG, that goes against the prevailing wind patterns at higher altitudes?

I know the wind influences ocean currents at sea level which run southwest from the Bering Strait along the Kamchatka Peninsular (An amazing sight if lucky enough to get a day flight together with clear weather)
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Old Aug 17, 20, 9:12 pm
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Originally Posted by Nicc HK View Post
I am curious (I am a non-commercial pilot), but would winds aloft explain westbound NYC-HKG, that goes against the prevailing wind patterns at higher altitudes?

I know the wind influences ocean currents at sea level which run southwest from the Bering Strait along the Kamchatka Peninsular (An amazing sight if lucky enough to get a day flight together with clear weather)
There are several variables for this, including turbulence.
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Old Aug 18, 20, 12:00 am
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For the flights going west against the prevailing wind direction, I can't imagine that avoiding the polar route would somehow save on fuel. However that could be done with the opposite intent -- i.e. to test endurance and limits of the new aircraft (A351). Still that's typically the job of Airbus, not a customer airline with paying pax on board. Any "wind" theory along would also not explain such persistent avoidance of Russian and Chinese airspace.

Nicc HK's ideas from Post 2 make sence (i.e. Russian overflight fees, and air force priorities). I suspect those conditions would not affect CX alone. What other airlines normally fly the polar route, and are any of those flights still operating right now? They might provide the confirmation for or against the above hypothesis.
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Old Aug 18, 20, 4:08 am
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Originally Posted by MaxVO View Post
For the flights going west against the prevailing wind direction, I can't imagine that avoiding the polar route would somehow save on fuel. However that could be done with the opposite intent -- i.e. to test endurance and limits of the new aircraft (A351). Still that's typically the job of Airbus, not a customer airline with paying pax on board. Any "wind" theory along would also not explain such persistent avoidance of Russian and Chinese airspace.

Nicc HK's ideas from Post 2 make sence (i.e. Russian overflight fees, and air force priorities). I suspect those conditions would not affect CX alone. What other airlines normally fly the polar route, and are any of those flights still operating right now? They might provide the confirmation for or against the above hypothesis.
After little reseach on Flightradar24, I found that in recent days EK215 DXB-LAX and QR739 DOH-LAX have taken a polar route, but the corresponding return flights do have taken more southern routing and I believe that sort of routing has been used also on these flights earlier, so there is no guarantee that you will experience polar routing also on future flights. And of course, routing between JFK and HKG via DOH/DXB and LAX might be quite a detour...
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Old Aug 18, 20, 5:51 am
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Originally Posted by Hezu View Post
After little reseach on Flightradar24, I found that in recent days EK215 DXB-LAX and QR739 DOH-LAX have taken a polar route, but the corresponding return flights do have taken more southern routing and I believe that sort of routing has been used also on these flights earlier, so there is no guarantee that you will experience polar routing also on future flights. And of course, routing between JFK and HKG via DOH/DXB and LAX might be quite a detour...
Wow, great finds!!! These two go smack over the North Pole, and can be good for polar sightseeing! Apparently flying over Western Siberia is not an issue right now. If any airspace is restricted, it would have to be in China and/or Eastern Siberia. It might be worth it to check CX841 flightpath again in a couple of weeks.
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Old Aug 19, 20, 9:00 pm
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I flew AA DFW-HKG quite a few times. Sometimes, mainly in winter, AA would go over the North Pole but return over Japan and Alaska a week later. So jet stream does play a big role in those flights.
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Old Aug 19, 20, 11:31 pm
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Originally Posted by Alex_I View Post
I flew AA DFW-HKG quite a few times. Sometimes, mainly in winter, AA would go over the North Pole but return over Japan and Alaska a week later...
Good to know, thanks. IIRC the one time world's longest flight EWR-SIN traveled the polar route in both directions. But even then there are chances to get some help from air currents on parts of the route.
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Old Aug 20, 20, 12:19 am
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Originally Posted by Alex_I View Post
I flew AA DFW-HKG quite a few times. Sometimes, mainly in winter, AA would go over the North Pole but return over Japan and Alaska a week later. So jet stream does play a big role in those flights.
I have done this route a lot as well, but never got above the Bering Straits in either direction. Below is a low quality photo view north over St Lawrence Island (Half way between Alaska & Russia right in the middle of the Bering Strait) to the icesheets..


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Old Aug 22, 20, 2:34 pm
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I have found that typically, in Northern Hemisphere winter season, westbound flights to Asia go over the pole, but returning eastbound flights stay more southerly, over the Pacific.

In summer, it's more of a tossup. Eastbound flights are still almost always oceanic. Westbound to Asia might not go directly over the pole, but typically are still routed on tracks farther north than eastbound flights.
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Old Aug 22, 20, 2:54 pm
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It's been mentioned before it's all about cost at the moment, fuel is cheap Russian overflight fees are not! Even in normal times a flight will only route on polar tracks if it justifies a significant time and fuel saving

Given the current situation might as well spend longer in the air, the significant (it is significant) extra cost of going Polar can not be justified.
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