When might an airline not flight the most direct route between two cites?

There’s been a lot of interest recently in my Q and A session with Marcus Pabst, a flight dispatcher with Lufthansa German Airlines.  Some readers have been surprised — as was I — that airlines must pay “overflight charges” to governments to fly over most airspace.

The overflight charges on the flight I detailed, Lufthansa flight 456 from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, weren’t so pricey. They added up to a little less than $9,000 for a trip that went through Germany, Irish and Canadian airspace, among others. The general idea is to reimburse countries for the aviation-related infrastructure required to handle international flights.

But some countries are considerably more expensive than others. And when it’s feasible, airlines will avoid them. Take Lufthansa’s daily flight between Frankfurt and Buenos Aires. Sometimes, Pabst told me, the plane will fly slightly out of the way.

“We can choose a route over the Atlantic avoiding two important airspaces,” he said. “First is the Canary Islands. Those are Spain, and Spain means Euros. Very expensive. And also Cape Verde. It’s expensive. The normal route, for one flight, is $2,400 for the Canaries. And the same, or similar for Cape Verde.  So for one flight, (if both countries are avoided), we can save $4,700.”

Sometimes, the new route takes a bit longer. But much of the time, Pabst said, it’s worth it.

“Obviously, if we fly 10 minutes longer, we need 10 more minutes of fuel,” he said. “And comparing the prices, sometimes it’s cheaper to fly 10 minutes longer, as long as we come on time to the destination.”

Lufthansa, of course, is not the only carrier that uses this approach. Last week, I was speaking with a senior executive at another airline who told me his carrier also tweaks its routes from Los Angeles to South America in order to avoid certain countries.

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