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Continental 757s Are NOT Almost Running Out of Fuel

British newspaper The Guardian has a report (via USA Today) saying that Continental’s 757s flying trans-Atlantic routes have “run low on fuel” on 96 occasions last year (Continental flies more 757s trans-Atlantic than anyone else).  They suggest that these planes are not meant to fly such distances and that the five-fold increase in “minimum fuel declarations” by pilots and then makes the piece extra scary by tying the story together with a 1990 crash by an Avianca jet that had run out of fuel in New York.

Down in paragraph 317, the article notes that there is a difference between “minimum fuel declarations” and “fuel emergencies” – the former is a scary-sounding moniker that means the flight cannot be delayed any longer without cutting into reserves, while the latter means the plane has to land immediately (thanks to an Ask the Pilot article that gives further explanations about this topic).

As the Ask the Pilot article (and a great deal of other article’s he’s written) notes, stories like this are sensationalized garbage.  There is no emergency at hand.  No Continental plane 757 has come anywhere close to running out of fuel.  I’m guessing this story would never have been written if the phrase “minimum fuel declarations” were called something else.  The Guardian should know better…

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  1. Continental has been said to operate hubs (well, focus cities really :) at Goose Bay and Gander. :p

  2. THAT is true…

    I neglected to mention the say that while they don’t have fuel emergencies, they do offer 3x weekly nonstops between Berlin and Goose Bay. My bad :)

  3. I wonder if CO pilots don’t get bonuses for minimum fuel declarations. From what I can tell, it means that they flew/consumed the perfect amount of fuel – not enough to be dangerous, but not too much to add cost. Fuel is heavy. I would think that flying with more fuel than you need uses even more fuel to pull the extra weight, which is why airlines don’t offer magazines on board any more (except their own, which are marketing/advertising vehicles). CO should spin this that they are being “green.”

  4. Whilst it may not be dangerous, this surely counts as somewhat sharp practise by Continental?

    If they are frequently resorting to minimum fuel declarations then they are routinely getting to jump the air-traffic-control queue, which is rather unfair on other carriers who are actually flying long-haul, fit for purpose planes across the pond!

  5. I don’t think they are talking trash.

    I searched the web for articles related to Continental fuel shorting AFTER a flight experience that led me to wonder what the hell was going on. The article from ( brought disturbing light to my personal Continental low fuel story.

    Two weeks ago, I was returning from Portugal on a Continental flight, a 757 no less, and when the pilot announced, “We only have twenty minutes of fuel left…” I thought surely he didn’t mean we’d run out of gas in twenty minutes, of course he’s not counting the emergency back-up fuel, nothing to worry about. Well, I’m glad I didn’t read the article until now.
    Now that I have, I believe Continental’s fuel shorting savings plan is just asking for a disaster. My flight left Lisbon without any delay. We were ahead of schedule when the pilot began our final descent into Newark airport. After a few minutes, I noticed things were taking too long. The pilot then announced, “The weather has finally come into Newark and now the airport is closed … They have given us a forty-five minute window estimate but we only have twenty minutes of fuel left … so, we’ll continue in a holding pattern as long as we can and hope that the weather clears through faster but we may have to divert and land for refueling …”
    If we only had twenty minutes of fuel left when we were in our final descent and our flight was coming in ahead of schedule, well, I think they had burned through the 45 minutes of emergency reserve fuel.
    After circling for ten minutes or so, we landed at Newberg, NY for refueling. We were the first of seven Continental jets to land for refueling.

  6. I was on a recent flight from Barcelona to Newark and about a few hours from the expected time of landing in Newark the pilot comes on and says that due to the “Critical” fuel levels we would be making an emergency landing in Boston to get fuel. WTF is continental thinking!? As a paying customer for a ticket that is over 600-700 dollars I will never book with them again. I will pay the extra 100$ and fly on a bigger plane with an airline that values safety.

  7. As a paying customer I dont want to stop anywhere. I especially dont want to hear the captain come on and say anything about something “Critical or low fuel”. These are words I dont want to hear especially while over the Atlantic 38,000 feet!
    By them using a 757 is pushing the envelope to much and something unfortunately bad will have to happen for them to change it and use 767’s as a standard.