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Ask the Pilot, with Captain Mike Bowers


Q: It seems like cruising altitudes almost always hover between 38,000 and 40,000 feet. Why is that altitude favorable?
A: TEach aircraft has an optimum altitude based on its wing design, engine power, weight and outside air temperature. For most aircraft, the best altitudes are between 33,000 feet and 42,000 feet, and the sweet spot is 38,000 feet to 40,000 feet. Generally speaking, the higher you fly, the more efficiently you operate, due to the air being less dense. Another consideration is wind. The winds at high altitude can be very strong—above 100 miles per hour. We will fly at a less optimum altitude to avoid a strong headwind or seek a strong tailwind. Our flight-planning and onboard computers calculate the trade-off and recommend the best altitude to reduce flight time and fuel consumption.

Do you have a question for Captain Bowers? You can write to him at askthepilot@united.com

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