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There's a new shortest airline route in the US and it's just 29 miles

May 14, 2020
6 min read
There's a new shortest airline route in the US and it's just 29 miles
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American Airlines has a new feather in its cap: the new shortest route in the U.S., and it has the federal government's coronavirus aid package to thank for it.

In order to meet the conditions of the CARES Act aid it received, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier is flying a circular route to destinations in the mountains of Colorado: Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Vail (EGE), on to Aspen (ASE), then Montrose (MTJ) and back to Dallas/Fort Worth, according to Cirium schedule data. The Vail-Aspen leg, at 29 miles, is the new -- if temporary -- shortest flight in the U.S. on a major carrier.

And no, passengers do not have to get off the plane at each stop.

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American is operating the shortest route in the U.S. between Vail and Aspen as part of a circle route to Colorado mountain destinations. (Image by Cirium)
American is operating the shortest route in the U.S. between Vail and Aspen in May, as part of a circle route to Colorado mountain destinations. (Image by Cirium)

American is operating the entire route with a 65-seat Bombardier CRJ700 through June 1, Cirium shows. The flight, AA2986, operates five-times-a-week from Thursday through Monday.

The carrier is selling the Vail-Aspen leg for just $46 one way on May 21, though residents across much of the U.S. are encouraged to avoid all non-essential travel. Flight time is 35 minutes.

U.S. airlines have gone to great lengths to comply with the requirements in the CARES Act that require them to serve all of their existing destinations in order to be eligible for aid. Many have sought waivers, though with mixed success. Others have consolidated routes by making one city a "tag" onto another route.

Related: A complete list of major airlines' coronavirus change and cancellation policies

For example, Alaska Airlines consolidated its nonstop flights between Seattle (SEA) and both Baltimore/Washington (BWI) and Pittsburgh (PIT) into a single flight from Seattle to Pittsburgh and on to Baltimore. The airline is even selling stand-alone itineraries between the cities, with Pittsburgh-BWI round-trips going for $256 and up during the week of May 20.

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Still, many flights are operating nearly empty. Data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A) shows an average of just 31 people on flights in the U.S. during the week ending May 12. The number of people on flights is trending up -- from a low of fewer than 10 per flight -- but that comes only after airlines have slashed more than 80% of their schedules.

"We shouldn’t be flying airplanes that are empty," A4A president and CEO told senators at a hearing on May 6.

Since then, the Department of Transportation has slightly eased the CARES Act flight schedule rules. Airlines can now suspend service to up to 11 cities on their maps, with the regulator ensuring that flights continue to every commercial airport across the country on at least one carrier.

Related: These are the only long-haul routes American, Delta and United plan to fly in May

Even with the new flexibility, American is not expected to suspend flights to Aspen, Montrose or Vail in Colorado. Bill Tomcich, an Aspen-based air service consultant with Airplanners, told The Colorado Sun on May 14 that bookings to the mountain towns are starting to pick up for the summer.

But American's claim to America's shortest commercial air route will be short lived. Nonstop round-trip flights between both Aspen and Vail and its Dallas/Fort Worth hub resume on June 4, according to Cirium.

Alaska will reclaim the title when American's Aspen and Vail nonstops resume. Its 31-mile hop from Petersburg (PSG) to Wrangell (WRG) in its namesake state on a Boeing 737 will again be the shortest route in the U.S. on a major carrier.

Related: Air travel travel won’t return to pre-coronvirus levels until 2023, airline group predicts

Featured image by An American Eagle Bombardier CRJ-700 is seen at Washington National Airport on April 26, 2016. (Photo by Ben Mutzabaugh/TPG)

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023