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Why is it faster to fly east?
Travel Question: Why is it faster to fly east?

Why is it faster to fly east than west? For example, it takes longer to fly from New York to Los Angeles, than it takes to fly from Los Angeles to New York. It also takes longer to fly from San Francisco to Maui, than it takes to fly back home to San Francisco. Flying East equals faster. Flying West equals slower.

Why is it faster to fly east?

We posted this question to Research Maniacs visitors and got four answers:

Answer 1) Earth rotates around its own axis. The sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west, so you know the earth spins from west towards east. It other words, if you are located above the North Pole and look down, you will see that Earth is rotating counter clockwise. That means as you travel east, east will meet you on the way and therefore you reach it sooner and it is faster.

Answer 2) It is simply a matter of time zones. For example the East Coast is three hours a head of the West Coast. Therefore, you are traveling forward in time when you travel east and therefore it is faster.

Answer 3) Gas is usually cheaper the more west you go. So, it is OK to burn more gas when you go west to east - and thus you can go faster because pilots have to be less concerned with gas mileage.

Answer 4) There are constant global winds (jet streams) above Earth that travel east. Airplanes often take advantage of these winds by traveling in them. This extra push makes it faster to travel east than west.

Answer 1 is incorrect. You and the airplane are relative to Earth and Earth's rotation does not influence how fast you can travel from one place to another. Think of if this way: Earth's rotation is 1024 mph at equator, an airplane traveling 500 mph would then travel backwards 524 mph - which it obviously can not.

Answer 2 is also incorrect. Although the time zone may change, you are still in the plane and time is ticking.

Answer 3 is incorrect. The premise itself is incorrect. For example, gas is more expensive in Maui than it is in San Francisco and not vice versa.

Answer 4 is correct. Airplanes take advantage of winds to fly faster. The same way a sailboat can sail faster with the wind than against the wind or a kayak can go faster downstream than upstream. Note: This applies to most of the northern hemisphere. Global streams are different around the globe and especially different in the southern hemisphere.

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