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How do planes land in high winds like Storm Eunice?

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Storm Eunice is causing disruption at Heathrow and other airports in the South East as pilots struggle to land aircraft in high winds.

The Met Office has issued a red weather warning due to high winds for London and the South East until 5pm today, with Amber warnings continuing until tonight.

As of midday, British Airways has cancelled 43 departures from Heathrow, with more likely to follow.

Chaos at Heathrow Airport as Storm Eunice rolls in

What happens to flights when it’s too windy?

There are safety limits on when aircraft are allowed to take off and land during windy periods. These limits depend on the aircraft type, runway direction and general weather conditions.

A long haul captain with a European airline I spoke to said:

“Wind speed limits are primarily based on crosswind, which is wind that blows perpendicular to the runway. And it’s slightly different between aircraft types, and different airlines may apply lower limits than others, but not higher than manufacturers’ limits.

The runway direction at Heathrow is about 270 degrees, the wind direction today is forecast to be about 280 degrees, so there won’t be much of a crosswind. Today it will be about gusts and wind-shear, where the wind changes speed/direction quickly. That can be challenging and require diversions.

For crosswinds, most aircraft are limited to around 40 knots (46mph), including gusts. It will be the wind-shear most likely that will be the issue today.”

Go-arounds and diversions

If the weather exceeds wind speed limits during a landing attempt then the pilots must abort the landing and undertake was is called a ‘go-around’ – in other words, they must try again.

There has been no shortage of go-arounds this morning, as you can see on FlightRadar24:

Chaos at Heathrow Airport as Storm Eunice rolls in

If an aircraft fails to land three times in a row then it is diverted to an alternative airport. Fortunately, this is rare, although three British Airways flights have had to divert this morning including BA296 from Chicago which is going to Geneva:

BA296 diversion

Two other flights have been diverted to Stansted and Edinburgh.

Wind doesn’t just affect take-off and landing

It’s not just the actual flights that are affected by high winds. Airports also have maximum wind speeds for activities related to flights, including the use of jetbridges, and the towing and loading of aircraft.

The maximum wind speed for jet bridges at Heathrow Terminal 5 is between 41 and 54 knots – or 47 to 62 miles an hour. If the wind picks up any higher (which they are forecast to do) they can become unstable and potentially cause injury or damage.

High winds also prevent flights from being catered. Catering vehicles are pretty unstable at the best of times:

Chaos at Heathrow Airport as Storm Eunice rolls in

…. so it’s no wonder they can’t operate when it gets windy.


Storm Eunice is causing high levels of disruption at Heathrow and other airports in the South East, but fortunately airport operations are strictly regulated to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew.

That said, I hope airlines have stocked up on sick bags as I doubt these flights are going to be particularly enjoyable as they come into land today ….

Comments (61)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • His Holyness says:

    What’s the crosswind limit on an E70/75/90/95?

  • Ryan says:

    Just had my flight from BRS to KUN redirected to leave from BXH and 6/7 hours later (obviously learning time will be also this late)

    I understand the storm is a cover for the airline but I feel like it’s a stretch for it to cover this scenario?!

    • Genghis says:

      That’s some diversion. Good luck getting to BXH.

      • Ryan says:

        Ryanair have laid on a couple buses to transfer all of the passengers…

        • Rich says:

          I think you mean BHX, Birmingham. BXH is in Kazakhstan!! Hence Genghis is sat there smiling at the journey you have ahead!!

    • Rhys says:

      Why do you think it’s a cover? Have you seen the wind?!

      You’re lucky you wont’ get diverted to Geneva!

  • Kevin says:

    I bagged a very cheap Ryanair flight to Barcelona for tomorrow – 30 Euro. Can I ask advice about travel insurance? Booked using my Amex Platinum but if say the flight is cancelled and I’m unable go and check into hotel, will I be fully compensated? Marriot will still take the ££ for the 2 nights as it would be less than 24 hours to cancel.

    • Kevin says:

      Or should I claim through my HSBC Premier Account Travel Insurance facility?

    • Brian says:

      If necessary, contact the hotel direct. I had bookings in Bristol for yesterday and today – called up the hotel for yesterday at about 9pm(!! – that’s the earliest I could get through) and they cancelled with no penalty. Hotel for today did the same when I called this morning. They’re aware of the mitigating circumstances.

  • ADS says:

    ME201 from Beirut made one half hearted attempt at landing (didn’t even make it as far as Kew) … and then diverted to Frankfurt

  • ADS says:

    BA flights from Larnaca and Venice diverted to Newcastle

  • Andrew says:

    Just boarding a flight to LHR now. Hope the sick bags aren’t required.

    • Andrew says:

      Landed at LHR 35 minutes ago and now sat on the taxiway with the seatbelt sign turned off. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) it’s carnage out there and lots of aircraft in a queue for a stand.

      Crew fabulous at keeping us informed and just feel lucky to have made it back to the UK, given others won’t have been as fortunate.

  • ADS says:

    Lufthansa flight from Munich made one attempt … then three racetrack circuits over Orpington … then flew back to Munich !

    200 minutes to nowhere

  • ADS says:

    TAP from Lisbon made two attempts … and then diverted to Paris

    And the plane is now on the way back to Lisbon

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