I’m a fairly new aviation enthusiast and am just curious to know the answer to this question. I flew Boston to Newark yesterday 14/6/22 (UA2396) and we cruised at or under 16000 feet for the whole flight. It’s only a short route but when I have flown the route previously we cruised at around 20-24000. The flight was delayed and Newark had a delay system in place too (not sure what that means), so wondered if that was relevant? It felt strange to fly at what felt like a much lower altitude than normal! Thanks for any comments.
This is typical for short hops. High cruise altitudes are good for fuel efficiency and to get a higher speed over the ground. However, it takes a lot of fuel to get to 30,000ft and it may take more fuel and time to get up to that altitude than would be saved cruising at that altitude given the short distance.
Another consideration is wind speed. Think of wind as a river, if you swim upstream it slows your progress down even though the speed through the water is the same. The prevailing wind goes from west to east, which means your flight was probably into the wind. If the wind speed was especially high the flight may have taken a lower cruising altitude for more favorable winds.