The polar route to Japan, which for decades saw planes routed from Europe to Tokyo via Alaska, is back – as airlines are either banned from Russian airspace or choose to avoid it.
The former 11-hour fast track from London to Tokyo, largely flying over Russia, is now taking over 15 hours via Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Iceland, Greenland, Arctic Canada and Alaska.
The flight path goes within 900 miles of the North Pole.
On the Pacific Ocean segment between Alaska and Japan, passengers are taken over the International Date Line, “losing” a day en route to the Japanese capital.
Until 2 March, Japan Airlines (JAL) was flying its usual route on the 7pm departure from London Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda.
The fastest route between London and Tokyo is just under 6,000 miles, and is regularly covered in under 11 hours.
But now JAL - the only carrier currently in the route - has decided to avoid Russian airspace, the journey has been extended by at least 1,800 miles and four hours.
The normal flightpath crosses Scandinavia and then follows the north coast of Russia for around 2,000 miles before turning south and crossing Siberia and the Sea of Japan. It benefits from the prevailing jet stream, enabling it to average almost 550mph.
With the new route, passengers have been taken back to a route used around three decades ago, in the days when planes had to make a refuelling stop at Anchorage, Alaska to reach both Tokyo and the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Although the long-range Boeing 777 jets can cover the ground without refuelling, the journey is extended in both directions.
Sunday evening’s flight from London to Tokyo departed two hours behind schedule due to the delayed arrival of the incoming aircraft and touched down nearly six hours late.
Although the journey burns many tons more in fuel and increases wear on the engines, the cost to Japan Airlines is offset by savings in payments for using Russian airspace.
Robert Boyle, former director of strategy for IAG, said: “Russia has long extracted a ‘toll’ from European carriers for overflying the country.
In many cases, the fees have been set at levels designed to extract the majority of the cost benefit for the shorter routings.”
Korean Air is continuing to fly over Russia on its flights from London Heathrow to Seoul.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies