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My mom works in New York. She survived an airplane crash when younger. Assume cost and travel time are no problems. She prefers paying HER own money and spending MORE time on a stop over flight in Seattle or Vancouver, before flying on to Asia. Her new job may require flying to Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore on commercial airlines. Besides, she likes stopping over in Seattle or Vancouver. She wants to retire there and loves their seafood. She assumes flights from Vancouver or Seattle to Asia fly a southerner route and closer to civilization than flights starting from NYC. Correct?

She dreads Polar Routes, because if an airliner crash lands in the Arctic, survival chance is way lower! Reasons are obvious!!! The frostiness alone can kill you, and Arctic predators like wolves. Unlike Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, there's no abandoned summer resort 21 km east. You can't just hike across Queen Elizabeth Islands or swim Beaufort Sea or Arctic Ocean to civilization! If all your pilots died, you won't know your location accurately enough for rescuers. Rescuers may not know IN TIME if your airliner crashed. Even if they did, they may not find you IN TIME! Rescuers are too far away!

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  • $\begingroup$ @4less If you'd like to see the routes taken by airliners in real time check out www.flightradar24.com Click on the airplane icon and it'll tell you what it is, where it took off from and where it is going. $\endgroup$ Nov 24 at 23:48
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Statistically speaking, airliners do not have dual engine failures that require a forced landing in the Arctic.

Twin-engine aircraft that fly over water or remote lands are required to comply with ETOPS regulations, which are extremely stringent about maintenance to ensure safety.

From Wikipedia:

ETOPS is an acronym for Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards – a special part of flight rules for one-engine inoperative flight conditions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) coined the acronym for Extended Twin Operations for twin-engine aircraft operation further than one hour from a diversion airport at the one-engine inoperative cruise speed, over water or remote lands, on routes previously restricted to three- and four-engine aircraft.

ETOPS twin jet operations began in the mid 1980s and have become extremely common since the late 1990s (thanks to the Boeing 777's ETOPS proving flights which extended ETOPS limits).

Even though airliners are extremely safe, statistically speaking, there is more risk in taking two flights instead of one due to the extra takeoff and landing.

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According to Airbus, less than 10% of aircraft accidents happen in the cruise portion of the flight. More than half of accidents happen during landing. You mother is taking the more dangerous option by having more landings than necessary for the trip.

However... I don't think telling her this is going to help her. Commercial aviation is extremely safe, and if having an extra landing eases her fear and allows her to fly, then I would just leave her in her ignorance.

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  • $\begingroup$ "I would just leave her in her ignorance." I don't want to "leave her in her ignorance"!!! She's open minded, but she just needs some statistics to be persuaded. thanks! $\endgroup$
    – 4less
    Nov 24 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ @4less, the moral is, even though two flights are slightly more dangerous than one, the risk is still so low compared to many other normal daily activities that what she feels may outweigh the risk difference. Just tasting the local seafood and stretching their legs is a common (and justifiabe) reason for people to make an extra stopover. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Nov 24 at 6:42
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There was a lot of background, but your actual question was: Do aircraft flying to Asia from New York fly farther North than aircraft flying from Seattle / Vancouver, correct? The answer to that is "yes". They both fly more-or-less great-circle routes if they can (based on weather and politics), and the great-circle from NYC to (e.g.) NRT is farther North than SEA-NRT. I will note that even that more-Southerly route lies over the Aleutians, the water there is mighty cold, and the weather there is usually terrible. I would personally prefer to be stuck on winter ice than winter ocean, but you do you.

The Northern route also flies over Russia, with whom we once again are having increasingly strained relations.

If you truly want to avoid the Arctic, you pretty much need to route through Hawaii.

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  • $\begingroup$ Should be sufficient to route via LAX or SFX; both of those stay (a little) south of the Aleutians on the way to Tokyo, Seoul, or Hong Kong. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 24 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ "A little south of the Aleutians" is still "die in a few minutes" cold water and not at all closer to civilization. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Nov 24 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Mike Over the Aleutians you can divert to Dutch Harbor, Adak or even Eareckson Air Station if you are an airliner with an emergency. Approaching the islands you can divert to a number of fields in Alaska. $\endgroup$ Nov 24 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the "real" answer would involve computing something like amount of time out of glide distance from an appropriate airport. But the point of most people is that, in the modern era, the maximum latitude of your flight is not at all the biggest factor in its actual safety. If Mom has a (totally understandable) specific fear, she can work around it, but leaving from Seattle isn't that much "warmer", just different. If she likes Seattle, it doesn't hurt to stop there, and it does avoid the 14.5 hour flight that is JFK-NRT. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Nov 25 at 0:14

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