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I was looking at flightradar24 and found this:

Qatar Executive

Which shows a flight from Vancouver, Canada to Hong Kong by Qatar Executive.

On the other hand I found this:

Cathay Pacific

A flight from New York to Hong Kong by Cathay Pacific. But the flight path is so long. They are going to reach the North Pole first! Why is that flight path so long?

The direct links to the two flights:

Qatar Executive

Cathay Pacific

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    $\begingroup$ Ask yourself why the Qatar exec flight is going via Alaska instead of just a straight line across the Pacific. The answer to that will also answer the question about the Cathay flight. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Aug 5, 2023 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ Take a globe and pull a string between the two cities (departure and destination). That should give you the shortest route and answer this question. $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2023 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf But not all flight paths are great circles. $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2023 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly a dup of Why don't most planes fly in a straight path?, which explains why a circle appears as a complex path on Mercator maps. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Aug 5, 2023 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @SnackExchange Most long-haul flights are reasonably close approximations to great-circles though. Deviation from such paths is usually a result of either safety concerns (see for example the number of commercial flights that avoid flyovers of Russia at the moment), sub-optimal prevailing winds (see for example flights from Norther Europe to the Eastern US, they go further north to avoid westerly winds) or airspace regulations. $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2023 at 15:37

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The apparent length of these two flight paths is misleading due to the projection used on the map, which greatly increases the apparent size of paths at high latitude.

If you have a globe, try tracing the path you see on Flight Radar and comparing it to a path across the Pacific. You'll see the one that goes near the north pole is shorter.

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Take a look at this routing shown from JFK to HKG. The routing represents a "Great Circle Route," which is the shortest distance between these two points.

JFK to HKG (Source)

enter image description here

Now look at this routing shown from YVR to HKG via a "Great Circle Route."

YVR to HKG (Source)

enter image description here



Here is another Great Circle representation of the JFK-HKG and YVR-HKG routes.

The distance from YVR to HKG is 5555 nautical miles and the distance from JFK to HKG is 7014 nautical miles.

Note: Disregard the red line on the map going south from HKG to Australia.

enter image description here

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Here is a picture of the direct path from New York to Hong Kong, as shown on a Globe, not a 2-D Map Projection.

The 2-D Map projection is very misleading. The most direct route does involve heading north of Canada and Alaska.

Although, given the current conflict with Russia over Ukraine, I'm a little surprised the flight would pass over Russia at all.

enter image description here

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In general, there may be other reasons not to choose the shortest path, leading to flight paths that seem overly long. For example, flights from the USA to the northern half of Europe are usually almost a straight line:

enter image description here

On the other hand, the return trips are usually much more north, like your Cathay Pacific flight:

enter image description here

The reason for this is are the winds: in the middle latitudes, they are usually westwards, while higher up North they are usually eastwards.

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