Commercial flights over remote areas

A few years ago, I took a non-stop flight from New York to Hong Kong. The great-circle route would have taken us about 425 miles on the Alaska side of the north pole. The path we actually took passed 40 miles on the Norway side of the pole so we never crossed the date-line. I assume the reason was more-favorable winds. I kept thinking: if we were to go down, how long before anyone at all would be able to even get to us let alone rescue us.

My first question is: Are there commercial flights that go that close to the south pole (e.g. New Zealand to Africa -or- South America to Australia) Are there places other than the poles that are nearly as remote as the poles?

As a side note, the return flight back to NYC never came within 3500 miles of the north pole. Our furthest north latitude was 50° and we passed directly over Vancouver, BC.

No scheduled commercial flights over fly the South Pole since there are no great circle routes in use which do so.

And the Flat Earthers know why that is! :o

Because the great circle route over the South “Pole” is infinitely long!

I’ve seen documentaries about full size commercial passenger planes going down in heavily wooded and/or mountainous areas that can take days/weeks/months to find. It’s hard to imagine, but once the plane crashes, it can easily be swallowed up by the landscape and when you have no idea where it landed, it can be next to impossible to find.

I’ve seen significant deviations from the great-circle route between Detroit and Nagoya (Japan). The GC route would pass through central AK, but the trip to Japan almost always passes further south over Anchorage, and the return trip generally runs even farther south - most recently, over Vancouver. I’ve always assumed the different paths were to take advantage of (or avoid a disadvantage from) the jet stream. The trip to Japan is close to 14 hours, and the return trip is usually about 12 hours.

The deviation from the GC route looks dramatic on a flat map, but if you actually trace it out on Google Earth, the path length isn’t a whole lot longer even though the lateral shift of the flight path may be substantial. In my case ISTR the difference in path length was about 500 miles (for a total flight of ~6500 miles) - but of course for a given airspeed, the thing that matters for total fuel consumption is total time aloft, not total ground distance.

In your case, the GC route from NYC to Hong Kong is 8046 miles, and as you’ve noted, it would be on the AK side of the north pole. If they fly on the Norway side of the pole, the path length is 8166 miles, only a little bit longer while perhaps affording more of a tailwind from the prevailing west-to-east jet stream in the northern hemisphere.

The Pacific Ocean is awfully big. On Google Map you can draw GC routes between Austria and South America (or Africa) that go over a lot of water. Whether those flights exist is a separate question. The most distant point from land is in the South Pacific.

You don’t even need to go over water. It took more than a year to find Steve Fosset’s plane in the Sierra Mountains, even though it crashed barely 100 miles from where it took off.

On top of that, searchers found eight other unidentified crashes.

Indeed. I’ve had a few trips from HKG - LAX where we’ve come within 500nmi of HNL. And still not in the air for more than about thirteen hours.

It should be noted that this is indeed due to Jetstream, and this is why if you look on sites like, you’ll see that it’s almost exclusively west-bound trips that do this.

Word. I’m going to make a WAG and assume you meant Australia, but yes, they do exist. QF (Qantas - yes, there’s really not supposed to be a “u” in there), operate a few flights in both directions. They are actually some of the longest overwater flights available and are usually operated by their 747-4ER fleet.

Yes, many. The gap between LAX - HNL is actually very significant. It depends on how complex an answer you want, but the standard airframe and powerplant mfrs use for this is called “ETOPS”. That stands for Extended Twin Engine OperationS.. Or as we like to say at work, Engines Turn Or People Swim.

Both the standards and acronyms have evolved some over the years, but the principle remains. In order to operate a twin engined aircraft beyond a certain point from a suitable airfield, certain reliability standards have to be met and continuously proven.

This is almost always applicable over water, e.g. an aircraft with ETOPS can fly up to 330 minutes (on the power one engine provides) from the nearest airfield whereas one without is limited to 60 minutes self-same. But there are exceptions.

For reference, the gap between LAX - HNL is so empty that there are no diversion airports. In an emergency, they must either return to LAX or continue all the way to HNL. So remoteness is not so much about the length of the total flight, but the areas it passes above.

Other non-watered areas that require ETOPS are the Himalayas, about 30% of the Sahara Desert, and about 20% of eastern Siberia. As well, there are areas that are designated ETOPS by the airline policy itself, which also has the force of regulation as long as it’s more restrictive than the FAA’s definition of ETOPS. An example of this would be large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa at a company I once flew for.

Sorry that was long-winded. Hope that answered some of your question.

To be fair, I think far less effort normally goes into finding a single-occupant private plane than goes into finding a loaded commercial passenger jet. I’ll note that they still haven’t found MH370 after four years (apart from a few fragments that washed ashore in the western reaches of the Indian Ocean), despite a truly massive search effort.

Fossett also had not filed a flight plan, and the crash was such that he was believed to have died on impact. Had he survived, he might have been able to activate an EPIRB, which would also be true for the OP in the event of a crash-landing near the north pole. Svalbard is a few hundred miles from the OP’s flight path; not clear what resources are available there, but I’d guess they might be able to send ships, and assuming the survivors were afloat in emergency rafts (as opposed to being far north on the ice cap), rescuers might be able to reach them in a day or two.

More commonly given as “Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards”.

I would consider anything within a couple hundred feet of land to be a fabulous thing. Having flown San Francisco to Manila a couple times, I would take Antarctica over the middle of the Pacific 500 miles from anything in 45F water.

In the 1950s, the US Navy had a ship continually at sea near the halfway point from California to Hawaii, in case a plane got into trouble while making that flight. It came in real handy when Pan Am Flight 6 developed engine trouble and had to ditch in the middle of the Pacific; the USS Ponchartrain was able to quickly rescue all of the passengers and crew.

If you ditch in the middle of the Pacific, chances are you would be able to use the aircraft’s inflatable life rafts, so you wouldn’t be immersed in the cold seawater. If you ditch in Antarctica, though, you will almost certainly freeze to death given the extremely long amount of time it would take anyone to reach you with the resources necessary to rescue you. Passengers almost certainly wouldn’t be equipped with adequate clothing for such a climate; there would be little food and almost no way of generating heat.

AKA “Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim.”

Ocean Station November was occupied by U.S.C.G.C. Pontchartrain, not the Navy.

I have a book on ferrying aircraft overseas - people who fly (deliver) small single engine planes to Europe and the Orient or Australia. It’s about 30 years ago. To fly single-engine aircraft the Labrador - Greenland-Iceland-Scotland route needed special dispensation from the Canadian government. (Following too many yahoos trying to emulate Lindbergh, apparently) The flight to Honolulu - by far the longest route in island-hopping to down under - required special dispensation from the FAA. Aircraft would leave in convoys from San Francisco, with special permission to take off 25% overweight, the extra weight beyond the single pilot being fuel bladders in the passenger compartment. The flight could last 24 hours. One episode the author related was when the pilot reached into the cooler for a drink and got his hand stuck… funny until you realize that he may have to ditch before his hand froze off. if so, a second plane would ditch with him - standard safety plan. Fortunately, he got his hand out.

When my niece flew from NYC to Tokyo last summer (long story), my brother tracked her progress on an app. The Great Circle mapper indicated that the plane would fly over northern Canada and Alaska, but instead flew almost to the North Pole. I had wondered why it would do this.

The route is often modified to take advantage of tailwinds or to avoid headwinds.

As these winds are often about 100 miles an hour flying the cross wind direction over the pole can be faster and more fuel efficient.

As the winds in this part of the world tend to be out of the west typically the great circle route is taken when flying the other direction.

So it was. My mistake.

Last year we flew Toronto-Hong Kong and they did a similar thing. I’ve flow into Asia on lots of plane but this ride was amazing, the conditions were perfect. Clear sky, sun just beginning to set as we took off, North over James Bay then Hudson Bay, heading East chasing the sun. Came down over Siberia, then Mongolia, still brilliant clear skies and still light enough to see. It was an awesome flight, the under body camera view was way better than anything on the entertainment menus, in my opinion.

Welcome to the Dope, Arslan. Stick around. Your post was very informative and constructive.