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Are there any commercial flights flying west that outpace the rotation of the Earth? In other words, where the ending longitude is at least (15 degrees * flight duration in hours) west of the starting longitude. While on such a flight, you'd see the Sun going the "wrong" way.

I know such flights are possible at airliner speeds if you're far enough from the equator, but I don't know whether there's actually any cities far enough north with nonstop flights between them.

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    The classic case was of course Concorde which did that every day.
    – jcaron
    Dec 15, 2021 at 0:24
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    Does this answer your question? Can I land in a different time zone before my take off time?
    – jcaron
    Dec 15, 2021 at 0:27
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    @jcaron I don't consider that a duplicate, because it basically revolves around going from the west edge of one time zone to the east edge of the next time zone over, which means the Sun won't appear to go in reverse. Dec 15, 2021 at 0:54
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    While not exactly what you are looking for, I once took off just before sunset and was headed directly west. As a result the Sun stayed in the same apparent position for several minutes while the plane was climbing to cruise height.
    – Peter M
    Dec 15, 2021 at 1:29
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    @PeterM You also get some benefit from the increasing altitude - sunset occurs about 1 minute later per km of altitude, so a 6-minute climb to 9km would keep the sun stationary even when heading due north or south! Dec 15, 2021 at 16:06

5 Answers 5

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+500

I think Reykjavik to Anchorage should do it. It's 7h:16m flight time and covers 128 degrees longitude (22W to 150W), that comes out to 17.6 degrees per hour.

Iceland Air flies that in summer, but not right now.

Irkutsk to St. Petersburg is close: 100 degrees in 6h:35m. Twice a week on Yakutia.

I used to fly a fair bit Shanghai (PVG) to San Francisco (SFO) on United: leaves at noon and arrive three hours earlier around 9am. That doesn't count though: it's eastwards crossing the dateline .

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    Looks like the block time is 7 hours 20 minutes, so still good there. Dec 15, 2021 at 15:36
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    To add time zones: Anchorage runs on Alaska Time, which is UTC+9 or UTC+8 depending on daylight savings; while Iceland runs on UTC all year. So that Reykjavik to Anchorage will gain 8 or 9 time zones in its 7h20m, arriving at a local clock time 40mins or 1h40m ahead of when it departed. On the other hand, St Petersburg is UTC+3, while Irkutsk is UTC+8 — so that flight only gains 5 time zones, not so close to beating its 6h35m.
    – PLL
    Dec 17, 2021 at 8:40
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    @PLL If Iceland Air only flies that trip in the summer, it’ll always be daylight savings time for this trip (AKDT is used Mar–Nov), and so: UTC+8, 8 time zones, land (Anchorage time) 40 minutes before you took off (Reykjavik time).
    – KRyan
    Dec 17, 2021 at 13:47
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Inspired by Russell McMahon's answer to "Can I land in a different time zone before my take off time?".

The rotational velocity at a given latitude is about:

V_rot = 1500 x cos(latitude) km/h

Conversely, the latitude at which a given rotational velocity is attained can be found by:

latitude = arccos(speed/1500)

Most jets have a cruising speed between about 800 km/h (A320 family) to over 900 km/h (777). Not taking into account take-off/ascent/descent/landing, the latitude at which you go "faster than the Earth" at 900 km/h (if you travel parallel to... a parallel) is about 53°, which in the Northern hemisphere is about the middle of England, Northern Germany, or about the middle of the southern provinces of Canada. At 800 km/h, you have to reach nearly 58° (around Stockholm, or close to the limit between the southern and northern provinces of Canada).

There is one additional complication:

  • You need to travel along a parallel "or better" (along the great circle route), so any detours due to jet stream, weather or geopolitical issues will make things worse.
  • The jet-stream is most likely against you.

So in flight, at cruise altitude, if you manage to avoid the jet-stream, fly with a 270 heading in a 777 over Scandinavia, sure, you will go "faster than Earth" at least temporarily.

I haven't yet found a flight where it actually works from take-off to landing. I suspect it may be quite difficult due to the constraints above. I have tried HEL-OSL and HEL-KEF but neither work.

Edit

According to Flightaware, flight SU6290, GDX-SVO (Magadan to Moscow Sheremetyevo) using a 777, took 7h13 on 14/12/2021, for a longitude difference of 113°, which corresponds to a 7h32 time difference. So that flight landed before it took off using local solar time (it also landed before it took off in actual local time), but just barely.

However, during flight, especially the middle part when it was flying a 270 heading over Northern Siberia (somewhere around 70°N) at about 860 km/h, it was very definitely "going faster than the Earth" (over 300 km/h faster!).

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    The great circle route may mean you won't spend the entire flight at a heading near 270 - but it may mean that you spend much of it closer to the pole than either the origin or destination. So it isn't inherently necessary that both cities be very far north/south. Anyway, since the great circle route is the shortest route, then if traveling along a parallel would suffice, the great circle route will do even better. Dec 15, 2021 at 15:16
  • Btw, it looks like GDX-SVO was blocked at 8 hours, so it wouldn't qualify based on that. Dec 15, 2021 at 15:34
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    "(around Stockholm, or close to the limit between the southern and northern provinces of Canada)" Canada doesn't have "northern provinces". Those are the territories up there.
    – Vikki
    Dec 15, 2021 at 17:43
  • wait what about in the southern hemisphere? Such as the enormous Australia/Sth America routes, no???
    – Fattie
    Dec 18, 2021 at 0:22
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    @Fattie continents in the Southern Hemisphere do not extend much south. The southernmost city with intercontinental service is probably Melbourne which is only at 37°S. I checked SYD-JNB and SCL-SYD, they're quite far from the mark.
    – jcaron
    Dec 18, 2021 at 13:33
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Beginning Summer 2022, Finnair will fly nonstop between Helsinki and Seattle, which are 147°16' apart in longitude, a time equivalent of 9 hours 49 minutes. The westbound flight has block time of 9 hours 45 minutes, departing Helsinki at 17:55 local time and arriving Seattle at 17:40. That covers 15°6' of longitude per hour. Of course, assuming it runs on schedule, the actual flying time would be even shorter.

This is not as impressive as KEF-ANC, but at least it's between larger cities...?

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Practically all westward commercial flights from East Asia to central Europe will outpace the Earth's rotation for part of their flight. As these flights are against the jet stream, they tend to choose near-polar routes, flying over very northern latitudes, to decrease travel time. As other answers have already pointed out, a typical cruising speed in ideal conditions is faster than the 15°/h rotation of the Earth North of approximately 50~60 °N. Flying from Japan (Tokyo or Osaka) to Europe (typically Helsinki, although also London and Munich) regularly put me as far North as the Ob estuary in Siberia; using Google Maps that approximates to 70 °N. Even with unfavourable winds, that should give a speed faster than Earth's rotation.

If you take such a flight close to the winter solstice, you can view the sun setting and rising at awkward times and awkward directions while you are flying into and out of the polar night.

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In 2018 I flew from England to Iceland in late May. Leaving England at sunset, the sun was resting on the horizon. When we landed in Iceland, the sun was noticeably higher. It was the first time I saw the sun "rise in the west."

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    This is interesting, but I think it's a different effect than what the question is asking. This flight wouldn't "outpace the rotation of the earth"; Reykjavik is about 22 degrees west of London, so you'd have to do the flight in about 1.5 hours, but all flights I'm seeing take over 3. Manchester-Reykjavik is a little closer but still not there. The solar time when you landed was in fact later than when you departed, but due to Iceland's higher latitude, in spring and summer the sun is higher in the sky than in England at the same solar time. Dec 18, 2021 at 0:40
  • @NateEldredge Thanks, I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense.
    – gknauth
    Dec 21, 2021 at 8:56

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