Why a 29 Mile Flight?

American Airlines jets are parked at gates on March 25, 2020, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. The airline is running a 29-mile flight between Vail and Aspen, Colorado, the shortest route it’s flown since the 1990s.

Politicians have found another unique way to defy logic. They have crafted a legal requirement with their CARES aid package that creates 15-minute flights. 

As reported in the Dallas Morning News on May 18th, American Airlines has added a 29-mile flight to its schedule between airports that serve the ski communities of Vail and Aspen, Colorado — a route created to fulfill the requirements of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The 29-mile “tag flight” is the shortest flight Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines has run since the 1990s and, until now, an increasing rarity as air travel created full flights between hubs such as DFW International Airport and niche destinations, including Vail and Aspen.

They are called “tag flights” because airlines can service three or four destinations a day on a circular path instead of the normal hub-to-destination routes. The flight takes off from DFW four days a week, making connections to Eagle County Regional Airport in Colorado, Aspen/Pitkin County Airport and then Montrose Regional Airport before heading back to DFW.

American will be operating the flight only until the beginning of June, when it plans to fly nonstop to all three airports from DFW.

“We’re currently flying this DFW-EGE-ASE-MTJ-DFW route due to the CARES Act,” said American Airlines spokesman Nichelle Barrett.

Travel demand, especially to leisure destinations, has decreased to almost zero with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines are required to maintain service to every destination they did before the pandemic in order to take part in $50 billion in stimulus loans and grants as part of the coronavirus relief package.

That allows American to hit three airports that serve Colorado’s premier ski destinations of Vail, Aspen and Telluride with one plane in one day.

It also makes for some short flights.

The Vail to Aspen flight is just 29 miles. Aspen to Telluride is about 76 miles. American schedules 35 minutes for the Vail to Aspen route and 40 minutes for the Aspen to Telluride leg.

Skywest, the regional partner operating the flight, has done some of those trips in about 23 minutes in recent weeks, according to FlightAware.

The flight also doesn’t get very high. A trip on Friday between the Vail and Aspen airports gained only about 8,600 feet of altitude from its takeoff point before starting to descend.

It all takes place on one of American’s smallest planes, a Canadair CJR-700, which tops out at 76 seats.

Short flights are becoming more common during the COVID-19 pandemic as airlines try to fulfill their legal obligations because of the coronavirus relief package and adjust to the fact that very few people are flying to some niche destinations that were very popular during normal summer travel seasons. 

Joseph Alba
Mr. Alba was previously Editor of the Airport Press for 12 years covering both local as well as global aviation news. Prior to this, Mr. Alba had Executive positions in Systems Engineering and Marketing with IBM World Trade, and had foreign assignments in the Far East and Latin America earning three Outstanding Achievement Awards. Mr. Alba also directed a new function dealing with Alternate Fuels for Public Service Electric & Gas company in New Jersey and founded a Natural Gas Vehicle Consortium consisting of car company executives and fleet owners, and NGV suppliers in New Jersey. Mr. Alba was a founding partner of ATA, an IT Consulting company which is still active in Central and South America. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Alba’s initial employee was the U.S. Defense Department as an analyst.

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