Eli5 Why do European flights flight paths to the U.S go via the UK and not just straight across the ocean?

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Eli5 Why do European flights flight paths to the U.S go via the UK and not just straight across the ocean?

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The Earth is not flat, like a map.

The Earth is a sphere, and those “great circle” paths are the shortest direct path on a sphere.

They do go straight over the ocean. But a flat projection of the world have to distort it so that what is straight on a globe can be a big curve on a flat projection.

The simple answer is that maps distort to some extent how the earth and the continents actually look and how they are arranged. If you look on a world globe instead of a map you’ll see that the closest route (shortest distance) between, say, New York and Paris, is over the North Atlantic. An east-west Great Circle route will look distorted and curved on a standard map. It’s called a “Great Circle” route because if you continued on its path you’d would completely circle the globe and end up back where you started.

Part of it is great circle distance as everyone has already stated, the other part is due to safety protocols developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization like ETOPs and EDTO which limits the amount of distance you can fly away from an alternate landing location when flying civil aircraft over water. This is becoming less of an issue with increased engine reliability that allow aircraft to fly further away from alternate landing locations.

It’s been answered already, it’s map projection – but you can see this for yourself in Google Earth. I’m using the Android app, so the method might differ:.

Drop a pin on Greece by holding your finger on it. A little “measure” icon will appear at the bottom of the screen. Tap that and drop the next pin on Chicago. Because Google Earth uses a globe, you’ll be able to see that you’ve drawn a straight line that goes over the UK and Ireland, south of Greenland, and over Canada before reaching Chicago. Now switch to Google maps and look at where your line would have to go to go over the places we just talked about. It ends up being pretty well mangled be the map projection.