Planes Carry Extra Fuel

Q: I’ve been on flights where we’ve had to circle for an hour before landing. How much fuel is on board for these situations? Do airlines cheat to save money?

The amount of required fuel is determined beforehand depending on weather, traffic, etc. There are complicated rules regarding minimum amounts. Although the dispatchers and planners devise the fuel loads, pilots have the final say and will routinely err on the conservative side. Carrying extra fuel costs money, but it’s not nearly as expensive as the hassles of diversions (or accidents!).


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.