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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.

  • QwertyKnowsBest says:

    and for those who don’t know about it, BigJet TV live Streaming on YouTube from Heathrow. Guys is a legend for his commentary. Should also be on ITV 6pm news.

    Sorry if already mentioned.

    • mutley says:

      Big jet TV…… What on earth would possess any sane person to stand at the end of the busiest airport runway in in the UK during one of the worst storms for years, despite warnings from that powers that be to stay inside., how can anybody get that excited about planes landing.

      • Rob says:

        Today, loads of reasons. But he’s been doing this for 6 years!

        • SteveW says:

          And Rob, he had 80,000 viewers live from all over the world at one stage. He’ll make a tidy sum from YouTube. His footage was also all over the news. More funds. Is that a good enough reason for the office bound?

          • Rob says:

            I had a dig. In an interview 18 months ago – so mid pandemic – he said he was making $20,000 per month from paid subscribers, chopped to $14,000 after YouTube took its cut. He has one employee but its still not a bad result, and I assume the numbers are far higher now.

          • Rob says:

            For clarity … in the bits I saw there were no ads, so no revenue from YouTube. Secondly, you don’t get paid if your footage is used on the news. It is custom in the UK not to request or accept payment for you or your content to appear on the news (newspapers are a bit different because they are more aggressively commercial). I saw a post from Jerry recently that he was stunned when Bloomberg, I think it was, did pay a few quid – he was so shocked he gave it to charity.

          • Jeff77 says:

            It got up to 200k viewers at one point

          • SteveW says:

            Sorry rob, that wasn’t a dig at you.

      • Matty says:

        If you ask Alexa how she’s doing today, she replies that she’s watching Big Jet TV…

  • Thywillbedone says:

    Landed around 4pm from Porto into Gatwick. As hairy as I’ve ever had – nearly found religion. One younger lady fainted leading to an extra half hour to disembark. Still, good job to get in as I was sure I was facing a day’s delay.

  • Phillip says:

    A few diversions up to Newcastle this afternoon!

  • Tarmohamed says:

    Would this be entitled to any monetary compensation?

    Last night, Turkish cancelled several UK flights, and delayed the flight we had bookings on from 1130 to 1630. Clearly the delay was NOT weather related as was done the night before whilst other airlines on the same route operated.

    They rerouted via Emirates which was supposed to arrive at nearly the same time as the original flights. We were happy. Now the Emirates. Flight got 5 hours delayed and will reach final destination 5 hours late. This was due to weather.

    Can we claim compensation based on the original flight being delayed?

    • ChrisC says:

      Forecast major weather events can and do lead to proactive cancellations and delays and such flights would be exempt from UK261 compensation as weather (or ATC restrictions) would be the cause.

      So IMHO no compensation would be due

      • Tarmohamed says:

        Our flight wasn’t cancelled, but “proactively” delayed. I’ll still try our luck by showing other flights took place on the same route. Will keep the forum posted.

        • ChrisC says:

          Well it’s yoru time to use.

          But I don’t see this going anywhere.

          They will cite the weather and that ATC imposed flow control – both reasons to deny EU261 compensation.

        • AJA says:

          @Tarmohamed, were you departing UK or arriving into the UK? If the latter I think you will be unsuccessful as i dont believe Turkish Airlines is an EU airline so EC261 doesn’t apply as it is an inbound flight.. Emirates definitely isn’t and as the operating airline isn’t covered by EC261 since it’s a non-EU airline flying into the UK. That said even for departures from the UK weather disruption is definitely outside airlines control and therefore EC261 doesn’t apply.

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