The 3 strategic reasons why planes make stops

Aircraft shadow

I noticed the other day when I was searching for a flight to New York that there was a stop in Shannon when you fly with BA from London City Airport. I wanted to find out why this was but it then led me to my next question.

Why do planes make stops?

Planes make stops primarily because they can only fly a certain distance and need to refuel before continuing. Airlines will also stop in their hub city, allowing you to make a connection onto another flight for your onward journey. Here’s why:

Airlines base themselves in a city or several cities. For example, British Airways is based at Heathrow Airport in London, Emirates is based in Dubai and Singapore Airlines is based (funnily enough) at Singapore Airport. They do this to keep everything in one place for convenience and to maximise profitability, e.g. operations, cabin crew, maintenance, etc.

Airlines still want to offer passengers the option of flying between two cities, even if they don’t offer a direct flight. For example, you may want to book a flight from London to Perth, but Emirates will offer a flight from London to Dubai and a second flight from Dubai to Perth as part of the journey and cost. While Qantas offers the London to Perth service directly.

Other reasons why planes make stops include:


To pick up and drop off passengers

This one is a bit rare however another reason why planes make stops are to pick up and drop off passengers. There are a couple of flights in the world that will stop enroute to pick up or drop off passengers. This is because a flight is travelling a long way and if there is a strategic destination on the way or way back that could provide value (and ultimately profit) or make the journey more worthwhile, then an airline may choose to fly this. Ultimately, two destinations with one plane journey.

An example of this would be the British Airways flight from London Gatwick to Grenada in the Caribbean which stops in St Lucia on the way. Doing this means BA can fly to the Caribbean with one aircraft but offer customers two destinations. Another example is the EVA Air flight between London and Taipei which stops in Bangkok, again to provide a service between multiple cities. This means that passengers in London can fly to either Bangkok or Teipei with EVA Air but also means customers in Bangkok can fly to either London or Teipei with the airline. Generally there is a strategic reason for airlines doing this.


Runway length

The heavier a plane is, the longer the runway needs to be for it to take off safely. As fuel can be heavy, the less fuel an aircraft has, the less runway it needs. So if a plane needs to take off from a shorter runway, it may only carry a certain amount of fuel which requires the plane to make a stop on route to its final destination.


Where do planes make stops?

Where does BA1 stop?

The infamous British Airways BA1 flight from London City Airport to New York JFK stops in Shannon, Ireland on the way to New York for refueling. However, it does not stop on the return journey from New York to London.


Where does NZ1 stop?

Air New Zealand’s NZ1/NZ2 flight between London and Auckland stops in Los Angeles. This is for refueling but also to pick up and drop off passengers (customers are able to fly between London and Los Angeles with Air New Zealand).


Where does QF1 stop?

Qantas flight QF1 and QF2 flies between London and Sydney and stops in Singapore enroute to refuel and drop off/pick up passengers. This was previously Dubai, however, for strategic reasons, they moved this back to Singapore.


So why does flight BA1 stop?

Flight BA001 is a good example of this. It flies from London City airport to New York’s JFK airport, however because the runway at London City is short, the plane can only carry a certain amount of fuel when it takes off. So the plane makes a stop in Shannon, Ireland to refuel for the flight across the Atlantic. Stopping in Shannon also gives passengers the opportunity to clear US immigration before they arrive in New York, so that when they do arrive, customers don’t have to worry about long airport queues.