Where in the U.S. would you be furthest from a major airport?
September 29, 2016 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I was driving to the airport the other day and wondered - where in the continental United States would you have to live to be furthest from an airport? I'm thinking of an airport with actual major carriers that would connect to other major airports, not a small airstrip or that only has private and charter plane traffic.
posted by basehead to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a map of major airports in the US. So it looks like upper Midwest is the greatest distance from any major hub.
posted by vignettist at 3:54 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are tons of small non-major airports which connect to hubs on regularly scheduled commercial flights. Are you counting these? For example, you can get from Missoula, MT to Seattle, Denver, or Salt Lake City in one hop, on Delta/American/United/etc. But I certainly wouldn't call Missoula (MSO) a "major airport."
posted by serelliya at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2016

Furthest as the crow flies or furthest by driving distance/time?
posted by melissasaurus at 4:02 PM on September 29, 2016

Response by poster: Sorry, to clarify:

- I meant the name of a town that's furthest number of driving miles away, not a general area of the country.

- Any airport that has Delta/American/etc. carrier flights, it doesn't have to be a hub.
posted by basehead at 4:02 PM on September 29, 2016

Page 4 of this PDF has a map of 'primary airports' in the US. Primary airpots are defined by the FAA as airports with commercial service and at least 10,000 emplanements per year -- pretty close to your 'major airport.' Eyeballing the map it looks to me like maybe the middle of Nevada, the eastern part of Montana, or maybe the west end of the Kansas/Nebraska border are furthest from a primary airport.

Someone else might be able to do a better job of narrowing down which of these regions is in fact the most isolated from a primary airport, but I suspect you won't get a name of a town in the end -- the whole reason these locations are far from an airport is because nobody lives there.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:08 PM on September 29, 2016

So, this is a fairly straightforward* GIS problem. It just takes some work on the front end:
- Get a list of all airports in the country, and remove all of those in a category not "general aviation."
- Get a very good road network, and
- get a very good gazeteer of municipalities and set your logic to make it clear that the entities in the latter are nodes in the former.
- do some network analysis to find the node (town) furthest from all airports along the road network.

(* straightforward != easy)

My guess is somewhere in the upper midwest - maybe western South Dakota or thereabouts.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:11 PM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a difficult question. One way to approach it would be to consider places with scheduled air carrier service under Part 121 of the FAA regulations. Here is a load of data about airlines and airports. But there doesn't even seem to be a public list of airlines operating scheduled service. Also, these things are constantly changing with many small operators (for example) that come and go. You'd have to generate (FOIA?) a list of operators and airports served and do some GIS work to find the place most remote from their service, and then it might be out of date.

I just flew my light plane across the country and back for the fourth time and can say that this place you're thinking of would definitely be west of the Mississippi.

crazy with stars: "or maybe the west end of the Kansas/Nebraska border are furthest from a primary airport"

But North Platte has scheduled service to Denver. (They were very late when I stopped by a few days ago.)

If the line is drawn at "major carriers," then that would have to be defined to include/exclude smaller Part 121 carriers like Allegiant, Spirit, Great Lakes, etc. that do have scheduled air service
posted by exogenous at 4:17 PM on September 29, 2016

But North Platte has scheduled service to Denver. (They were very late when I stopped by a few days ago.

I agree that North Platte is in the area I mention, but the map I linked to plots North Platte as a 'commercial service' airport (2500-9999 emplanements per year) -- not a 'primary airport.' Possibly that counts according to OP's criteria, possibly not.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2016

There's a federal program called Essential Air Service that attempts to maintain access to air travel in remote rural communities post-airline-deregulation. Areas where the subsidies were discontinued or the eligible flights dropped might now be contenders for "furthest from a major airport."
posted by melissasaurus at 4:34 PM on September 29, 2016

Response by poster: I guess I'd include Spirit, Allegiant, etc. - I mainly was not wanting to count charter services. Someone above probably correctly categorized the kind of airlines I'm talking about, but I don't know the technical name.

Regarding GIS - with some various combinations of google searching, I did find a GIS assignment, where some answer sheet for an assignment claims Jordan Valley, Oregon is the furthest town from an airport (334 km) but not sure of all the specific criteria there. That's damn far!
posted by basehead at 4:35 PM on September 29, 2016

My completely off the top of my head guess would surely be that some small town in rural Alaska would win this contest.
posted by Joh at 5:10 PM on September 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Has to be Alaska, Nome? Point Barrow?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:29 PM on September 29, 2016

Alaska's on the North America continent, of course, but I think in normal usage the 'continental United States' excludes Hawaii and Alaska?
posted by crazy with stars at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Without any actual data, just guessing, I'd say either the Four Corners area, south central Oregon, or north central Montana.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:36 PM on September 29, 2016

Jordan Valley, Oregon is the furthest town from an airport (334 km) but not sure of all the specific criteria there. That's damn far!

Maybe they were working from a data set that ended at the Idaho border, because Jordan Valley is only about an hour and a half from Boise.

Without GIS it's just speculation, but I'd guess Nevada as well, maybe followed by southern Oregon, assuming that you mean the continental US. Otherwise, as noted, Alaska would be the clear winner.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:17 PM on September 29, 2016

Are you only counting American airports? Plentywood, MT is 284 miles (by road) from Bismarck, ND and 355 from Billings, MT. But it's "only" 117 miles from Regina, SK.

Glasgow, MT is 271 miles from Great Falls, 277 from Billings and 347 from Bismarck. 235 from Regina.
posted by AFABulous at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hmm, I assumed that northwestern ND would be too small for major airports but I guess what with the oil boom, I'm wrong. Minot is 174 mi from Plentywood but Dickinson is only 80 miles! Back to Glasgow, I guess. 146 miles from Dickinson. There are other small towns near Glasgow you could try, too.
posted by AFABulous at 6:31 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found one even closer to Plentywood that has Delta and United service, so I think Glasgow is it. Glasgow > Williston ND is 146 miles.
posted by AFABulous at 6:39 PM on September 29, 2016

Scratch Southern Oregon. Rogue Valley International Airport currently offers turboprop service to Portland, Seattle, etc on Horizon Air, according to the 'pedia, and historically enjoyed jet service from the likes of United and Hughes Air Worst.
posted by notyou at 6:48 PM on September 29, 2016

I would propose Austin, NV, which is 159 miles from Elko (small airport) and 175 miles from Reno.
posted by cider at 6:53 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

In that case, Alturas, Ca is 172 miles from Medford, Or, and 147 miles from Redding, Ca (which also has regular air service). There may be another town up in the SE of Oregon, NE of Ca that beats that.
posted by notyou at 7:00 PM on September 29, 2016

Inspired by notyou, how about Eagleville, CA? 182 to Redding and 176 to Reno. (This only works for the next week, though, because Klamath Falls, OR, is starting passenger service on October 5th, and that's only 137 miles away.)
posted by cider at 7:16 PM on September 29, 2016

OK, one more before I go to bed: how about Denio, NV? 209 from Boise, 223 from Elko, 265 from Reno, and 212 from Klamath Falls.
posted by cider at 7:25 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about Owyhee Nevada. That is somewhat close to Elko 100 miles, but not so close to anything else. I think you have to take a ferry to cross the Snake to get toward Boise from there.
posted by Oyéah at 7:30 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's a site which gives the distribution of distances to airports. The longest distance in the continental US to a major airport on the list used there appears to be near Plentywood, MT, at 252 miles from Billings or Bismarck. That's air miles, though, not driving miles.

It looks like Minot airport has grown enough to knock that corner of Montana off the list, though.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:32 PM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

For your northern states, Winnipeg and Calgary would be classed as "major" hubs, while Regina is a substantial regional airport. Eliminates much of North Dakota and Montana.

Though Deadwood, ND, probably isn't a bad guess.
posted by bonehead at 8:33 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Humboldt CA is about 5 hours drive from any airport that's not Arcata, which typically has commercial flights although sometimes only one carrier at a time. So my guess is somewhere in northern California / southern Oregon too.
posted by fshgrl at 9:36 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Arcata to Redding is three hours or so on 299? But McKinleyville Airport makes it moot, anyway.
posted by notyou at 10:08 PM on September 29, 2016

Presidio, TX is 242 miles from the nearest airport in Midland/Odessa...
posted by attentionplease at 5:52 AM on September 30, 2016

Like attentionplease, I was thinking of Big Bend country in Texas as well. As long as you're not counting airports in, like, Chihuahua, Mexico?
posted by oneaday at 7:00 AM on September 30, 2016

Big Bend is "only" about 200 miles as the crow flies from the nearest major US airport, Midland International.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:29 AM on September 30, 2016

crazy with stars: "Alaska's on the North America continent, of course, but I think in normal usage the 'continental United States' excludes Hawaii and Alaska?"

Okay, but that's what the word "contiguous" is for.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful attempts, precisely what I expected from you guys! I did mean contiguous/lower 48 because I assumed some tiny place in outback Alaska was the answer otherwise.

I was going to say we should include Canada/Mexico, but since I'm really thinking about how far someone would have to actually drive to fly somewhere, that would probably exclude that - as an American you can't drive across the border and fly somewhere else from a Canadian/Mexican airport can you? Seems like you'd get hung up somewhere in customs if you tried that.

I was talking about driving distances so it would seem Presidio, TX to Midland airport (242 miles) might be it??

I guess nobody is a GIS wizard to 100% decide this, but I'd bet we're pretty close!
posted by basehead at 12:25 PM on September 30, 2016

There's an airport 144 miles away frmo Presidio, TX in Chihuahua, Mexico. I don't see why there would be any problem with driving across the border and flying out, although there are going to be some fees associated with bringing your car into Mexico.

Alaska has more airports with scheduled service than you might think.

It's not clear what you mean by driving distance, as many rural places in Alaska don't actually have road access.

If a town with no connecting road is considered to have an infinite driving distance, you'll want to look at towns on islands with no roads leading to them. You'll also need to consider if a ferry service that you can bring your car onto counts as driving (or maybe you want to just consider whether a person could travel with a car, rather than driving) This list of car-free places in the United States might be a good place to start looking for such a place. Note that some of these places might have scheduled flights that are seasonal.
posted by yohko at 12:49 PM on September 30, 2016

Depending on how you are defining "town" (as well as all the other things), it's possible that you might be looking for Supai, Arizona.

accessible only by helicopter, on foot or by mule. Supai is 8 miles (13 km) from the nearest road

You didn't mention town in your original question -- there are incorporated towns and villages, unicorporated towns and villages, Census Designated Places, and of course many people don't live in a town, village, or CDP of any sort. It's not clear if you wanted to limit your search to towns in particular.
posted by yohko at 12:57 PM on September 30, 2016

The Canada/Mexico thing really depends on who is doing the driving. If you have a passport, it's usually not a problem to fly out of a foreign airport. My in-laws in Buffalo fly out of Pearson pretty regularly because it has more direct flights than Buffalo-Niagara. Assuming you have a passport, and you're not carrying a car full of cocaine or something, it's not difficult to enter Canada for the purposes of flying out. I don't have any experience with Mexico, but I imagine it would be similar.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:15 PM on September 30, 2016

Best answer: Sounds like a task for GIS!
  • Data from an ArcGIS 10.0-era distribution
  • Airports - Total enplanements > 500 (2003)
  • Cities - Population < 2500 (2004)
  • Cut out the eastern side of the US

The furthest seven locations are towns on the Texas/Mexico border to Midland International topped out by Lajitas at 269.5 miles.

Maps and Data:
posted by llin at 3:30 PM on September 30, 2016 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Stellar work, llin.
posted by basehead at 4:24 PM on September 30, 2016

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