Headwinds taking the "non" out of some nonstops

A Continental Airlines plane is guided by a worker as it taxis to the terminal at San Francisco International Airport Jan. 21, 2010, in San Francisco.
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Passengers' tickets on Continental Airlines may say they're flying non-stop from places like Stuttgart, Germany, to Newark, N.J., but the carrier is increasingly relying on fuel in Goose Bay, Canada, Iceland or other places in order to actually arrive at its destination, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The airline is using the relatively small and cheap-to-run Boeing 757 plane to make trans-Atlantic trips from some European locations that don't generate the need for larger planes, such as the 767. The catch is that a stiff headwind may force the plane to burn more fuel than expected, forcing pilots to stop and fill up.

As a result, passengers miss connecting flights, spend the night at a hotel paid by the airline and have to ask to be compensated for the delay.

"Headwinds returning from Europe are more extreme than we have seen in 10 years," an unidentified spokeswoman for United Continental Holdings Inc., Continental's parent company, told the Journal.

United told the newspaper that 43 of its nearly 1,100 U.S.-bound flights on the 757 in December needed to stop for refueling. In 2010, the number of stops made among a similar amount of flights was 12.

Continental isn't alone in having its 757s make unscheduled stops for fuel because of headwinds. Four of US Airways Group's 112 trans-Atlantic flights were diverted last month, the carrier told the newspaper. American Airlines said it's had "a few" diversions, and Delta Air Lines hasn't had any last month or so far in 2012.

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  • Alex Sundby

    Alex Sundby is an associate news editor for