American Airlines Plans New Shortest Flight In The Country: Aspen to Vail

Airlines receiving the first tranche of government bailout money are required to continue serving nearly all of the cities they flew to prior to the pandemic. In exchange for billions of dollars to fund payroll, the government required that the nation’s air transport system remain intact.

The Department of Transportation has the power to grant exemptions to this, and it makes sense to do so when demand for air travel collapsed over 95%. How many airlines did we need flying empty planes Los Angeles – Honolulu, when Hawaii was imposing a quarantine on all arriving passengers and declared they didn’t want any tourists?

Hawaii routes were granted exemptions early, but overall the initial response from DOT was tight-fisted, leading airlines to contort themselves trying to reduce flights and conserve cash. For instance Delta actually submitted a DOT filing claiming flying during the pandemic was unsafe though oddly the implication they drew was the empty flights should be eliminated, and not full flights.

In response airlines came up with creative ways to meet their obligation, introducing new ‘tag flights’ – short hop routes to cover multiple cities efficiently – such as:

  • Alaska Airlines came with a plan to fly Seattle to Dallas to Houston; Seattle to Raleigh to Charleston; Seattle to San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara; Seattle to Pittsburgh to Baltimore; and Seattle to Minneapolis to Columbus.

  • Frontier Airlines introduces several circle trips, including routes like Pensacola, Florida – New Orleans and Madison, Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

  • Spirit Airlines scheduled Dallas Fort-Worth – Austin, Asheville – Greensboro, Richmond – Charleston, West Virginia and Latrobe – Pittsburgh. This last is just 46 miles.

The Department of Transportation has relaxed things a bit and will now let U.S. airlines drop up to 5% of their destinations (allowing a minimum of 5 destinations to be dropped, and 11 for United, American and Delta), provided that every destination will need to still be served by an airline.

Each airline gets to list the destinations they’d like to drop in preference order, the DOT will hear objections and if they can only grant a request for a city to one airline and more than one wants to drop service they’ll base which one gets to walk away from a city based on where they’ve placed that city in their preference order.

However this doesn’t eliminate the need to consolidate flights, and American Airlines will reportedly introduce a new shortest flight in America, a 29 mile hope from Eagle (Vail) to Aspen, Colorado as part of a Dallas Fort-Worth – Eagle – Aspen – Montrose milk run.

[Mike] Boyd’s “Touch & Go” newsletter noted that airlines are being “forced to do all sorts of scheduling gymnastics to satisfy the DOT’s idiocy.” He pointed to American Airlines last week launching a five-times-a-week flight from Dallas to Eagle to Aspen to Montrose and back to Dallas “just to make the bureaucrats at the DOT happy.”

…The department of transportation said American must continue to serve Montrose, hence the mountain-skipping flight from Dallas.

At this point I do not see the 29 mile Eagle – Aspen flight in American’s schedule however.

The shortest domestic flight I’ve ever taken was United’s 46 mile Baltimore – Washington Dulles turboprop, which ended shortly before 9/11. It was a great way to get a lower fare on a cross country trip, meant I’d be checking in earlier (so higher on the upgrade list) and pick up an extra segment and 500 miles.

It was similar in a way to United’s 30 mile San Francisco – San Jose segment, but that was actually a codeshare bus service and it forced a paper ticket. You’d just rip out the bus coupon, and show up at San Fransciso – for a lower fare and extra miles. And since there was no baggage transfer between the bus and flight, you could even do this with checked bags.

Of course none of these are as short as the shortest scheduled commercial flight in the world, which historically been the 2 mile hop over water, Westray – Papa Westray in Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

(HT: Dennis)

Update: It actually is currently bookable in the near-term:

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In 2001 and 2002, I remember flying LGA/IAD/BWI, following by BWI/IAD/LAX. I flew the same ITN on the way home. I can still remember sitting at BWI at night waiting to head home to LGA. My Angel at the old White Plains ticket office pleaded with me to let her ticket LGA/BWI/LAX at the same prices as the 2 ITN’s mentioned above. When I told her what I was doing (to get the extra 500 miles on those shorts segments, she pegged me as ‘one of those people’). Keep in mind she was my Angel for 10 years prior. 😉

    That was the year when UA reduced 1K qualification to 84,000 miles instead of 100,000. I made 1K light by under 1000 miles; and for all my trouble, I received all of the benefits the following year. I was much happier with higher compensation than PremEx during IRROPS. 😉 I got upgraded more, and even earned SWU’s that put me upfront on TransPac 747’s.


  2. Being based in Aspen, I am SO tempted to take this flight. It looks like it starts next week, so I could theoretically book it. PHX seems to cheapest destination at the moment, though I am open to other recommendations!

  3. Still not as short as when I flew on an Eastern 727 from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami – 21 miles!

  4. @UAPremierGuy It’s been operating for a few days now, and is bookable tomorrow as well. But it’s a one-way route so it’ll do DFW-EGE-ASE-MTJ-DFW, not the other way around.

  5. Thanks! It looks like PHX it is to make this a round-trip run. Flown into EGE many times, but never from EGE to ASE. I’ve never flown to MTJ, so this seems quite exciting…in some ways like the island hopper that UA runs…only this is the “mountain hopper,” lol

  6. Way back when, I don’t recall whether it was Southwest or the old PSA, I flew from SFO to OAK on some promotion based on number of flights taken, not miles or price, etc. Going back even more, I can remember my Navy brother in law flying from SFO to SAN on PSA, for $12.

  7. Those milk runs are fun for the flight crew – extra adventure vs in and out of the hub

  8. “United’s 30 mile San Francisco – San Jose segment, but that was actually a codeshare bus service”

    Actually SJC-SFO was a real prop-plane flight on WestAir before the bus – I took it once way back when, it was a fun very short flight.

  9. Continental used to fly turboprops from Ellington Field in southeast Houston up to IAH (~30 miles) for connections as a way to compete with SWA at Hobby Airport (also in southeast Houston), especially with NASA customers (Johnson Space Center is next to Ellington and not far from Hobby, but far from IAH).

  10. I remember flying SNA-LAX-IAD on United back around 2005. SNA-LAX was on an E-120 – took off out of SNA, made a right turn at the coast and then a left turn to join the approach to 25L at LAX. Total flight time was nine minutes. That’s my shortest fixed-wing, regularly-scheduled flight.

  11. These short hops remind me long ago of the Delta ATL-FLL-MIA flight on a L10-11 no less. Weird.

  12. Although I never took it, Ransome Airlines provided commercial service between Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE) and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)… A distance of 19 miles.

  13. Michael, thank you for the memory. I actually flew PNE to PHL on Ransome. We walked to the plane, they weighed us all and our luggage, then balanced the aircraft. It was even more exciting because I live on US1 literally at the end of the runway. Ransome was part of Allegheny Commuter, which became US Airways eventually.

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