Climate change could lengthen travel time between the UK and US, increasing pollution and ticket prices, a new study has found.
Global warming is likely to accelerate the jet stream, which is a high-altitude wind blowing from west to east across the Atlantic.
As a result, westbound flights would be slowed down, yet travel time from North America to Europe would speed up, researchers at the University of Reading have found.
This effect of climate change could have major implications for airlines, passengers and airports.
Dr Paul Williams, who led the study, believes that transatlantic flights will spend an extra 2,000 hours in the air every year, resulting in $22 million (£15.2 million) extra fuel costs. (See the video above)
Dr Paul Williams from the University of Reading led the study
The route between Europe and North America is one of the busiest in the world, with about 600 flights every day.
Researchers found that the winds on the New York to London route will become 15% faster on average.
Flights from London will become twice as likely to take longer than seven hours while flights from New York will speed up and will become twice as likely to take less than five hours and 20 minutes.
On average, flights will only gain and lose a few minutes each way, yet the overall impact is expected to be "significant".
“The aviation industry is facing pressure to reduce its environmental impacts, but this study shows a new way in which aviation is itself susceptible to the effects of climate change,” Dr Williams said.
“The bad news for passengers is that westbound flights will be battling against stronger headwinds.
“The good news is that eastbound flights will be boosted by stronger tailwinds, but not enough to compensate for the longer westbound journeys. The net result is that roundtrip journeys will significantly lengthen.
“This effect will increase the fuel costs to airlines, potentially raising ticket prices, and it will worsen the environmental impacts of aviation.”
The study, which was published in the IOP journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday, assessed the effects of doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which could happen within the next few decades unless emissions are drastically reduced.
Graphs show the quickest routes between JFK and LHR airports, with eastbound journeys estimated to get quicker and westbound journeys slower
Researchers believe that as well as worsening the environmental impacts of aviation, airlines are likely to increase ticket prices to cover their costs.
The study explains that, while the impacts of aviation on climate change have long been recognised, the effect of climate change on aviation is a fairly new revelation.
Impacts of climate change on aviation include intensified turbulence and increased take-off weight restrictions.
“The jet stream encircles the globe, and there is one in the southern hemisphere too. It is possible that flights elsewhere in the world will also suffer from a similar jet stream effect,” Dr Williams said.