Strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean have caused many flights from Europe to make an extra stop to refuel on the way back to the United States. This has led to many misconnects and headaches for travelers over the past 45 days.
Many fliers have found themselves diverted to places such as Gander and Goose Bay in northern Canada to refuel before getting back to the United States. Those with connecting flights have often missed their connection and some have been forced to stay at a hotel because of the unexpected stop. Usually airlines do not compensate fliers for delays or cancellations caused by weather, but due to the large number of inconveniences, compensation has been offered in extreme cases.
The winds are unusually strong, but as the Wall Street Journal points out, there is another factor contributing to the detours. Many airlines use 757s on some of their European routes. These are smaller than the 767, 777, and 747s that are used for many international flights, and are also less-expensive to operate. Some of the European routes are towards the maximum range for the 757, which doesn’t leave much extra fuel to combat the winds. United Airlines, the largest airline in the world, has the most international destinations of any airline since merging with Continental Airlines. They use 757s on many of their European routes, thus they have experienced the most disruptions caused by the winds. However, they are not the only airline that has had to make the extra fuel stops; American Airlines and USAirways have both reported unexpected stops due to the winds (albeit much less frequently, due to fewer routes flown).
Since Cleveland is a hub for Continental, many people in the area choose to fly the airline due to the highest number of non-stop flights. Most of the European flights for Continental fly out of Newark, New Jersey, which is a short flight from Cleveland and an attractive route for fliers. This also decreases the chance of having to stay the night in Newark since there are more flights between the two hubs.
When arriving in the United States from a foreign country it is always a good idea to have at least 2 hours to make a connection. This will allow time to get through customs, check back in if necessary, and get to the next flight. While it may not seem ideal to have several hours between flights, it is better than the alternative that many have experienced recently: not getting to the final destination until the next day.