Flights between London and New York are getting longer, thanks to climate change

Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Frequent travelers between the US and Europe may soon see their flights taking longer, their arrivals being more frequently delayed, and their (already grueling) trips generally becoming less pleasant all around.

And they’ll have climate change to thank for that.

Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading, mapped how the doubling of CO2 in the world’s atmosphere from global warming—which will happen within the next few decades unless drastic emissions-cutting measures are taken—will potentially affect air travel.

He looked specifically at the flight route between London’s Heathrow airport and New York’s JFK, which sees more than two million passengers a year. Williams, who published his findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that jet-stream wind changes caused by climate change on that route could lead to aircrafts spending an extra 2,000 hours in the air every year.

That translates to millions of dollars in airline fuel costs, which could in turn raise ticket prices for travelers. The good news is that individual flights aren’t likely see too much of a change: affected planes will probably only spend five extra minutes or so in the air.

Considering there are hundreds of JFK-Heathrow flights a day, though, those minutes would add up fast—easily leading to frequent delays, as well as posing a damaging cumulative effect on both economic and environmental fronts. It’s the same kind of incremental-but-detrimental effect that climate change is having on the world.

And since people tend to get extra crabby when forced to spend additional time crammed up against one other on long-haul transatlantic flights, perhaps this is one consequence that could rally the entire world to fight for a cleaner atmosphere.