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In many ways, it was a completely unremarkable flight - an overnight trip from New York City to London. But by the time it landed, British Airways Flight 112 would set a record for the fastest subsonic commercial flight across the Atlantic. NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: The key ingredient to speed was the jet stream, this air current that ribbons from the east coast of the United States toward Europe.
IAN PETCHENIK: We knew that the jet stream was going to be very well placed this week to possibly break that record.
SELYUKH: Ian Petchenik is with the global flight tracking service Flightradar24. This weekend, as storms were hitting the U.K., Petchenik was on high alert for strong winds propelling one of the eastbound transatlantic flights to a potential speed record.
PETCHENIK: It's kind of like a marathoner wakes up and the weather's perfect. They're feeling great, and they just know it's that kind of day. And the course is also maybe a little downhill.
SELYUKH: This proved true. Typically, British Airways Flight 112 flies from New York's JFK Airport to London Heathrow in six hours and 13 minutes. But this Sunday...
PETCHENIK: They did it in four hours and 56 minutes. And that was the first time that we've seen it below five hours.
SELYUKH: This was actually the case with several transatlantic flights on Sunday. But this route from New York to London, Petchenik says it has historically been a benchmark.
PETCHENIK: And this is the fastest a subsonic commercial airliner has ever done it between these two cities.
SELYUKH: Subsonic means slower than the speed of sound, which is how commercial aircraft fly. Petchenik estimates strong winds may have added 150 miles an hour to the airplane's normal speed. The record-setting British Airways flight at times topped a ground speed of 800 miles per hour. At its most basic, think a paper airplane in a gust of wind. The plane itself is not necessarily moving faster than normal relative to the air around it; it's just riding a very strong air current.
PETCHENIK: Those increased speeds across the Atlantic happen on a fairly regular basis, especially in the winter.
SELYUKH: In fact, the previous record-holder happened in January of 2018, when a Norwegian flight from New York reached London in five hours and 13 minutes. On Sunday, British Airways said in a statement that it prioritizes safety over speed, but its highly trained pilots made the most of the weather conditions. One passenger told NPR the flight was a little bumpy, but not too bad, especially given that his original flight to the U.K. had been canceled because of the storm.
Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
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