Here’s Why Delta’s Athens To Atlanta Flight Operated With A Stop For Four Days

This past week, Delta flight 223 took off from Athens International Airport (ATH) en route to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). However, instead of making the 11-hour or so journey nonstop, from July 31st through August 3rd, the flight consistently made a stop in Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). The reason for this stop can be attributed to some extreme weather situations that have hit Athens hard.

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Delta Air Lines had to add a stop in Boston for its Atlanta-bound A330s leaving Greece. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Why Delta’s A330s had to stop in Boston

Since July 2nd, Delta has operated nonstop flights between Atlanta and Athens. Like nearly every transatlantic route, the flight leaves Atlanta at night and operates as a red-eye, landing the next morning in Athens. The return flight leaves Athens in the early afternoon and arrives back in Atlanta in the evening. The route consistently operates with an Airbus A330.

However, consistently, from July 31st through August 3rd, the airline operated this leg as ATH-BOS-ATL. Data from RadarBox.com confirms this. According to Delta, the reason came down to extreme weather in Athens.

Scorching weather had struck Athens. This limits Delta’s ability to operate nonstop flights between Athens and Atlanta. This left the airline with two options. Either it could operate a lighter load by offering fewer seats, or it could restrict the number of bags it could accept for the flight. Neither of those is a particularly pleasing choice.

Instead, Delta decided to operate ATH-ATL with a stop in Boston. The aircraft would refuel in Boston and then make the onward journey to Atlanta.

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Delta’s A330s traditionally have no problem making the flight between Athens and Atlanta. Photo: Getty Images

Hot weather and aircraft performance

While warm weather attracts tourism, extremely hot weather is a complicated issue for airlines. When the weather gets too hot, aircraft performance is limited. We’ll start with a simplified physics lesson.

You may have heard about lift in relation to aviation. The concept is quite simple. Without sufficient lift, an aircraft is not going to make it into the sky. As an aircraft accelerates down a runway for takeoff, the wings splice the air and the shape of the wing, coupled with the flap deployment for takeoff, pushes the air downward, leading to the generation of lift.

The second component is air density. The density and pressure of the air above the wing is lower than the air below the wing. The air above the wing is also moving faster than the air below the wing. This works in conjunction with the shape of the wing directing the flow of air downward which, again, leads to takeoff.

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A lot of calculations go into orchestrating a perfect takeoff. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

When it gets too hot, the density of air decreases. In hot temperatures, the molecules in the air are moving faster and are not as condensed as in cooler weather. With less dense air, aircraft performance is limited. A plane will need either a longer runway or the ability to generate even more speed to take off, assuming the weight of the aircraft is held constant. However, less dense air means less available oxygen molecules to support combustion, limiting the amount of thrust an engine can provide to compensate for the lack of available runway.

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How this impacts the Airbus A330

Delta Air Lines is flying an Airbus A330-300 between Athens and Atlanta. These planes seat 293 passengers – though future flights may be on the carrier’s retrofitted A330-300s. While this plane is designed to complete transatlantic missions, this particular route has some unique factors at play.

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Delta uses the A330-300 as a transatlantic workhorse. Photo: Getty Images

First and foremost, the route routinely takes over 11 hours of flying time, which is starting to hit the top end of the A330-300s capabilities with a full load. Second, Delta does need this capacity. Greece is a popular destination for Americans, and bookings surged when it became one of the first European countries to reopen for tourism. Delta added the Atlanta-Athens flight in response to strong customer demand, so it does not want to limit seat count, leading to option number three of adding a fuel stop.

With temperatures going down in Athens, the airline is back to operating flights nonstop. However, hotter weather is expected to hit in the coming days, and that could once again limit aircraft performance. Travelers to Athens should keep an eye out on their flights and be prepared in case their travel plans get disrupted.

Were you impacted by Delta’s decision to add a fuel stop on the Athens-Atlanta flight? Let us know in the comments! 

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