by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, February 25, 2019
Crossing the Atlantic has always carried a certain romance. It seems remarkable that only 10 years after Orville Wright took to the air for 12 seconds in 1903, the world was spurring on aviators to tackle the vast ocean between Europe and America.
In 1913, the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 to anyone able to “cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight”, a challenge postponed by the outbreak of the First World War.
It was not until after the war, in 1919, that British pair Alcock and Brown set off from Newfoundland on the north-east coast of Canada, surviving fog and snowstorms, before landing on the west coast of Ireland nearly 16 hours later. Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for Air, presented the duo with their winnings.
Today, transatlantic flights, though of significantly less novel, with more than 2,524 aircraft making the trip daily, still possess a little magic. It is the bridging of two continents across the second largest ocean on the planet, and the linking of the “Old World” with the “New”.
What is the shortest route across the Atlantic?
Let us focus on the North Atlantic. The quickest hop across the Pond actually starts - or finishes - at the same location Alcock and Brown departed from 100 years ago.
The twice-weekly Air Canada service between London Heathrow and St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, is the flight with the shortest route across the Atlantic, stretching just 2,315 miles and taking under five hours. The distance is so short that Air Canada flies the route not with a long-haul aircraft, such as an A330 or a 787 Dreamliner, but with their 737 MAX - the new variation of the aircraft Ryanair flies (the Irish airline will take order of its first MAX this spring).
Why would anyone go to St John’s you might ask? Telegraph Travel expert Nigel Richardson says it is North America’s most unlikely culinary capital and a feasible destination for a weekend break. “The restaurants are worth a trip in their own right,” he reckons. And then there’s the rest of Newfoundland, which, according to Stanley Stewart, who visited last year, “still feels like a bit of Britain that has fallen off and drifted across the Atlantic” and ideal for bracing hikes.
So how far is it to New York?
The Big Apple may seem closer to the UK, on account of its location on the eastern edge of America. But aircraft do not fly straight across the ocean, they take the “Great Circle” route, arcing up slightly from London before first sighting land in north-eastern Canada and flying down the coast.
The distance between London and New York is around 3,451 miles, with flight times of just over seven hours.
One slight anomaly is a lesser-known British Airways service flown between London City airport and New York JFK - with a stop in Ireland.
BA1 is an all-business-class A318 that takes off from City and reaches Shannon an hour or so later. Here, the 32 passengers on-board go through “pre-clearance” of US immigration so they can dodge the queues at the other end. And then it’s onto New York, seven hours and 3,081 miles away.
The Aer Lingus service between Dublin - on the country’s east coast - and Boston, two cities tied together by diasporas, is six hours in the air across 2,992 miles. Before you say anything, there are no direct routes to St John’s from Dublin, or Shannon.
Should a route open up between Shannon and St John’s, nearly a replica of that first flight in 1919, it would take top place of the shortest route across the North Atlantic.
What is the busiest transatlantic route?
No prizes for guessing this one - the route between JFK and London Heathrow is the ninth busiest in the world, with 2,972,817 passenger journeys in 2017, and only transatlantic flight in the top 10.
How close are South America and Africa?
Coast to coast, from Senegal to Brazil, just 1,600 miles; shorter than the trip between St John’s and Heathrow and less than half a New York to London service, but there are no direct flights between the two countries.
There are, however, direct flights from Cape Verde, off the coast of Africa, to the Brazilian cities of Fortaleza and Recife, courtesy of Cabo Verde Airlines. At 1,800 and 1,900 miles, respectively, and with journey times of under four hours, they are probably (technically) the shortest transatlantic flights available.