Q: On a recent trip from Chicago to Beijing, our captain said we would take a polar route. What is a polar route, and why didn’t our return flight also take a polar route?
A: A polar route, not surprisingly, takes us over the North Pole, a shorter distance than flying west over land and the Pacific. You will see this if you look at a globe from the top: If you put one end of a string on Beijing and the other end on Chicago and pull it tightly, the string will trace over the top of the globe. On the return trip, we sometimes fly just south of the North Pole because the winds are more favorable, which decreases flying time.
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