When the regular Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Havana took an unusual route, one that as of this writing has it high over the Atlantic and likely to avoid the U.S. airspace it usually crosses, many -- myself included -- wondered whether the plane might have diverted because it was carrying NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
It turns out, though, that a number of westbound transatlantic flights are today taking this unusual southern route, apparently for weather-related reasons. It's possible that Snowden could still be on the plane -- perhaps his Russian handlers saw the flights diverting, knew Aeroflot would avoid U.S. airspace today and popped him on board. But it would seem that at least the flight path itself is due to weather and not, say, a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Here, via the Web site TurbulenceForecast.com, is Thursday's flight weather forecast chart for the North Atlantic region. That big red oval represents air pressure over Greenland that's causing unusual turbulence, which may have led air traffic controllers to divert some flight paths south.
And a few other westbound transatlantic flights also seem to be taking a similar path. These were flagged by Associated Press reporter Raphael Satter. Here, via flight tracking service FlightAware.com, are the flight paths, all live as of this writing:
A representative of FlightAware sends this along, noting that the current flight path has Aeroflot 150 crossing into U.S.-controlled airspace:
Because of winds (which blow East), the flight generally takes a more Northern route, up over Iceland, through Canada, and down the Eastern seaboard. However, on days when the winds are light or unusual, it can be more favorable to take a more Southern route which also avoids the additional overflight fees from Canada and the US. The route being flown today is comparable distance to the Northern/Canada route, although it appears significantly more direct due to flat projections of a curved Earth. The flight duration today is about the same as the last couple weeks, which suggest they're taking this routing due to winds/overflight fees. The last two times we saw this flight take a similar route were June 20 and June 8.
On the route it's flying today, it will fly in US airspace; the US controls most of the Western half of the North Atlantic. To actually avoid US airspace, a flight from Moscow to Havana would likely have to fly South to (approximately) Western Sahara and then West, which would be about 30% further than either of the routings discussed above.
More from WorldViews on Snowden: