What are the weirdest nonstop flights?
January 25, 2021 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday I learned that there is a nonstop flight from Whitehorse, YT to Frankfurt. The one in Germany. I think this is the wildest thing! And it made me wonder -- what are other extremely unexpected nonstop flights?

If you know any fun facts about why the route exists (including the Whitehorse-Frankfurt one), I'd love to hear that too! Defunct routes A-OK.

(If you know any really wild one-stop routes, I'm not necessarily opposed; the fact that you can get from Whitehorse to Windhoek with just one stop is also delightful.)
posted by goodbyewaffles to Travel & Transportation (40 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
What about flights that seem weird until you stop and think a moment? Northwest Arkansas National Airport has daily nonstop flights on major carriers to just about every big city in the US, way more than you'd expect for a small regional airport, until you remember that Walmart is headquartered right around the corner.
posted by yeahlikethat at 1:50 PM on January 25 [15 favorites]

Some good ones on this list, including Bangor, Maine to Helsinki, Finland that I remember from the 90s.
posted by JanetLand at 1:51 PM on January 25

Yukon is a really popular tourist destination for Germans! It's beautiful wilderness and about as untouched as you can get these days. That flight only runs in the summer, and it's pretty noticeable because it's bigger (and louder!) than the usual aircraft going through.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 2:00 PM on January 25 [14 favorites]

There (were) flights between Idaho and the Basque region, Idaho being the most concentrated area of Basque peoples outside of Spain/France.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:20 PM on January 25 [14 favorites]

Sacramento (SMF) can label itself an International airport because there's a flight to Guadalajara, in Mexico. Also a flight to Vancouver, BC. And that's it.
posted by Rash at 2:26 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Northwest Arkansas, ASA (a former Delta affiliate) used to fly FYV-FSM, a trip that took less than an hour by car, but not the reverse. AA used to fly 757s and even some 767s between Orlando and Miami many times a day, which makes a little more sense even though the flight wasn't even long enough for a drink service.

Tulsa had a ridiculously frequent mainline AA service for a city its size because maintenance on several different types was/is done there. More than once I was literally the only passenger on the plane when flying out in the morning.

Sanford, FL had nonstops to London before COVID, thanks to low cost carriers wanting to avoid Orlando International.

I don't know if they still exist, but Vegas used to have all kinds of super cheap flights from surprisingly small cities all over the country, usually with only weekly service.
posted by wierdo at 2:28 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Since defunct direct routes are okay, here's a grifty one: the twice-weekly direct flight from Newark, NJ to Columbia, SC. In 2011, NJ Port Authority Chairman David Samson complained to the United CEO that he had to fly into Charlotte to get to his vacation home, and asked United to revive to direct flight into Columbia, which was closer to his weekend home. United initially rejected it as unprofitable. Samson took United agenda items off the Port Authority agenda (twice), asked about the flight again...the "Chairman's flight" ran until 2014, and cost $945k in losses to operate. The route was cancelled 3 days after Samson stepped down from the Port Authority. Both Samson and United were sanctioned.
posted by neda at 2:31 PM on January 25 [26 favorites]

There's the 90-second commercial flight between Westray and Papa Westray in the Scottish Orkney Islands. Connecting points that are 1.7 miles apart, it's considered the world's shortest flight, and in favorable winds you're in the air for just under a minute. It's mostly used by locals and researchers.
posted by mochapickle at 2:36 PM on January 25 [14 favorites]

I once needed to fly to San Antonio for a work thing and there was much despair when a mechanical issue delayed a leg and there were no available connecting flights from anywhere at any cost. Thanks American Spring Break! I never needed to know about you before, I wish I had no reason to know about you now!

Anyway a very patient agent eventually came up with a workable solution. After several false starts - including flying into a 'nearby' airport (everything is comparatively nearby when you are starting in Canada) and paying for a vehicle rental to drive the rest of the way which is a no go as I don't have a licence - he found a direct flight to San Antonio that didn't originate in some other hub in the American South.

Because it started even more south - Mexico City.

Ok, ok, so the surprising part isn't that Mexican Air flies direct from Mexico City to San Antonio (although that is a little weird) it's that this flight leaves every morning at 7:00am from domestic departures.

Pro tip - I happen to know that it leaves everyday, once a day, because when the agent says "we've comped you a hotel room but be there early" that means be there oh-my-gawd-what-time-zone-is-this-early because trudging across the airport to arrive in the ticketing line for 4:00am on a 7:00am flight when the desk doesn't open until 5:00am isn't going to be early enough. I was still standing in that line at 7:00 when the flight departed. Rinse-and-repeat; the next day I arrived in line at 1:00am and was about 60th in line.

So, yeah, at least 10 years ago you could fly from Mexico City to San Antonio just know that it's (or was?) basically a domestic flight and if you don't speak Spanish you will require significant assistance to successfully make your ay to boarding the aircraft.
posted by mce at 2:47 PM on January 25 [6 favorites]

Not that long ago, there were daily nonstops between Williston ND and Houston TX. Williston, of course, being the heart of the Bakken Oil Formation.
posted by DrGail at 2:51 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

I don't know if they still exist, but Vegas used to have all kinds of super cheap flights from surprisingly small cities all over the country, usually with only weekly service.

Allegiant Airlines is a good example of this, they use smaller airports outside of major cities on a fewer number of days per week.

You can fly from Rockford, IL to Vegas for $104 round-trip. Or, if you're feeling adventurous how does Springfield, IL to Punta Gorda FL sound? Green Bay, WI (Appleton, ATW) to Phoenix-Mesa (IWA) is another regular route.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:00 PM on January 25

From 2011-2019, in the winter you could fly from the tiny regional airport in Bellingham, WA to two destinations in Hawaii. My understanding is that this was mostly used by Canadians from British Columbia who would drive across the border and take advantage of the strong Canadian dollar.
posted by muddgirl at 3:02 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

In summer there are weekend flights between NY La Guardia and Traverse City, MI (population ~15,000).

I’ve been to Traverse City and I recognize that area has a lot to offer, don’t get me wrong. But given the multitude of places in the Northeast where a New Yorker could go for a summer break (Maine, Vermont, Cape Cod, Nantucket, the North Fork, the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, Cape May, etc.) I’m amazed Traverse City would show up on anyone’s radar, let alone be a destination for enough people to merit nonstop flights.
posted by theory at 3:06 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]

Elmira/Corning (it's in western New York) has direct flights to Detroit, for the usual hub/spoke reasons, and to three different cities in Florida: Tampa, Punta Gorda, and Orlando.

Maybe a lot of Corning glass executives/retirees have vacation homes?
posted by box at 3:18 PM on January 25

Pre-COVID, there was Air China Ontario, CA ONT - Taipei Taoyuan TPE, aimed at cargo and also the large Asian population that resented dragging themselves to LAX all the time.

Many of the subsidized Essential Air Service route pairs are obscure or odd. Merced-Sacramento comes to mind, as SMF doesn't have a huge share of connecting traffic.

Providence PVD also once had nonstop service to the Azores and Cape Verde, catering to their immigrant population. There's a Portugese consulate in Providence.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 3:19 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]

JoeZydeco, I'm from Appleton and my dad worked at ATW -- a little part of me died when you described it as Green Bay (which has its own airport, GRB) ;)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:24 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

But given the multitude of places in the Northeast where a New Yorker could go for a summer break (Maine, Vermont, Cape Cod, Nantucket, the North Fork, the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, Cape May, etc.) I’m amazed Traverse City would show up on anyone’s radar

You can (or, maybe, could) own a bit of lake shoreline in northern Michigan without being a Kennedy.
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on January 25

American Airlines also had a 29-mile mountain-hopper between Vail, CO and Aspen, CO in order to retain relief funds that prevented total shutdowns of service to certain cities, similar to British parliamentary trains.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 3:31 PM on January 25

a little part of me died when you described it as Green Bay (which has its own airport, GRB) ;)

Yeah, sorry. Calling ATW "Green Bay" is part of Allegiant's subterfuge. But I think SUE-LAS would be a kickass flight.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:35 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Also, last two, the Island Hopper, Honolulu-Majuro-Kwajalein-Kosrae-Pohnpei-Chuuk-Guam, which carries its own spare parts.

There were direct flights from Manila-Saipan because Filipino nurses that wanted to work in the US (and there are a vast number of them) had to take the NCLEX exam in person, in a US state or territory. Saipan didn't require a visa. Once the exam was offered in the Phillippines, the flights took a hit.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 3:39 PM on January 25 [9 favorites]

Oh, I know Wendover Productions has done a couple videos on weird flights, but I cant remember what the flights were offhand. One got one airline exec fired, IIRC. Others exist for tax credits? Maybe after work I'll see if i can figure it out.
posted by cgg at 4:00 PM on January 25

A friend who lives in the Okanagan Valley surprised me when he said he was off to Puerto Vallarta for the holidays and I asked, how many stops will that involve and he said no, it’s a direct flight from Kelowna to PV every Thursday.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:10 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

St Pierre and Miquelon is an overseas French territory of some 6,000 people off the coast of Newfoundland and the only remnant of New France that is still under French sovereignty.

Although it's a full part of France, uses the euro and French-standard electricity and plugs, etc., in the low season there are only flights to/from Canada, with the farthest destination being Montreal~ And it's not particularly close to any large Canadian city -- it's a ferry ride plus a four-hour drive to St John's.

Since 2018 however, in the summer season Air St-Pierre has run a once-a-week round-trip from Paris to St Pierre, which has apparently sold out every summer.

Pre-COVID, there was Air China Ontario, CA ONT - Taipei Taoyuan TPE, aimed at cargo and also the large Asian population that resented dragging themselves to LAX all the time.

Sorry to nitpick, and admittedly it's confusing, but this would have been China Airlines (a Taiwanese airline) and not Air China (the flag carrier of the People's Republic of China); Taipei is China Airlines' hub.
posted by andrewesque at 4:21 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]

YKF (Kitchener-Waterloo) is an absolutely tiny airport (there are only a handful of flights per day), with most of their flights serving other destinations in Canada or nearby cities in the US (Chicago and Detroit, though both of those routes appear to be discontinued). However, they also have varying seasonal once-a-week direct flights to places in the Caribbean. I don't remember which destination they were advertising when I was there in October 2015, but this article mentions direct flights to Cancun and Punta Cana both operating from Dec 2019 through April 2020. The airport's history page also mentions flights to Montego Bay, Jamaica launching in 2009.

These flights aren't being offered right now for obvious reasons, but I assume they will return in the future!
posted by catabananza at 4:49 PM on January 25

I vaguely remember seeing a news story in the 1980s about a commercial jet flight from San Francisco to Oakland.

After research, there is a brief mention of it on the Oakland Airport Wikipedia page: "United Airlines introduced non-stop service to Chicago, and on the San Francisco-Oakland-Los Angeles route..."

According to the news story I vaguely remember seeing 35+ years ago, it was possible to buy a ticket for just the SFO-OAK leg.
posted by Hatashran at 5:27 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

For about a year in 2007-2008 there was a direct flight from Baltimore, Maryland, to the village of Kangerlussuaq in Greenland. It was the only flight to Greenland from North America.

They had to fly to Kangerlussuaq because, as the site of a former U. S. Air Force base built during World War II, it was the only runway in the country capable of handling jumbo jet airplanes. From there, you could get to other places by helicopter, small plane, or hiking 100 miles to the nearest town.

I still remember this because they cancelled the route as unprofitable in March 2008, and I had made plans to visit Greenland that summer. Of course nobody was visiting in wintertime!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:04 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]

Ah, heres the one I was thinking of. A direct flight from Columbia, SC to Newark NJ got a United CEO Fired.
posted by cgg at 6:53 PM on January 25

Yup, the flight from Frankfurt to Whitehorse accommodates waves of German tourists who come over in the summer!
posted by cabin fever at 7:47 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

There's a small regional airport in Hagerstown, MD with direct flights to Tampa and Orlando for <$100 roundtrip and which only leave on Thursdays, returning Sundays. The first time I flew down to visit my friend in Tampa I posted up near the gate and it took me a while, as the place filled up, to realize that everyone at the entire airport was getting on that plane! The arrival was delayed due to weather and when it finally landed, the airport employee at the gate got on the mic and said, "who's ready to go to FLORIDA!!?!?" The whole place erupted lol. She scanned our tickets as we filed onboard, and I later saw her with a vest & light-sabers out on the tarmac, directing the taxiing plane away from the gate.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:53 PM on January 25 [9 favorites]

My tiny local regional airport in the UK has comprehensive flights to cities all over Poland, because a huge number of Polish people live here.
posted by quacks like a duck at 10:33 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Beirut to Lagos, Accra and Abidjan on Middle East Airlines accommodates the Lebanese diaspora in West Africa.

Direct flights to the relatively small city of Najaf in Iraq from places like Ahmedabad and Lucknow in India are due to the city’s importance to Muslims as a place of pilgrimage.

Lufthansa used to run direct flights to Shenyang because of the size and importance of the BMW factories there.
posted by mdonley at 4:10 AM on January 26

I've always found it mildly interesting that you can spend 5.5 hours getting from Liverpool to Norwich (both UK) direct. Its usually such a pain to to get across country in the UK, rather than into London and out, and national rail offers more alternatives via London. It operates not much above the level of a local shunter in terms of many of the places it stops, but it goes virtually coast to coast.

What I find most interesting about this question is the assumption readers would know what Whitehorse, YT meant but needed to explain that Frankfurt was in Germany.
posted by biffa at 7:27 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]

Turkmenistan Airlines fly Birmingham to Ashgabat weekly as their only currently advertised UK flight, and over the past 20 years, Birmingham's been used by several other central Asian airlines as their chosen direct flight to the UK. This is due to lack of runway slots in London, and the fact that Birmingham Airport's only 1h10m from central London by train.

Cardiff Airport is largely overshadowed by Bristol Airport, which handles 5× as many passengers, so it's mainly used for holiday flights and flights to Scotland and Ireland (plus the daily flights to Anglesey). But there's also flights a few times a week to Qatar by 787, which more than doubles the number of passengers in the airport while it's being loaded.

Also, the fact that there are twice daily A380s from Manchester and from Birmingham to Dubai is just a huge amount of traffic from not huge cities. I'm not sure how many people are transiting at Dubai vs having it as a final destination.
posted by ambrosen at 7:38 AM on January 26

The most interesting strange direct flight I've taken was from Kastellorizo (aka Megisti - a Greek island off the coast of Turkey) to Rhodes. Kastellorizo has a population of about 500 but even in the non-tourist winter season it has 4x weekly service to Rhodes (in addition to ferry service), and tickets are very inexpensive. As I understand it this is part of an attempt to shore up the Greek population on the island - Turkey has never officially recognized Greece's claim to the island.
posted by mskyle at 7:44 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]

There used to be a Copenhagen-Bangkok and I think also Stockholm-Bangkok. I think there might have been directs to some smaller cities between the Scandinavian countries and Thailand (via Thai Airlines) but I can’t find them now (I always assumed these were tourist flights, but they aren’t exactly going to be frequent right now). I used to sit in the Copenhagen airport, in the dreariness of January at a high latitude, usually waiting for a flight to Heathrow, wishing I was going somewhere with sun too.
posted by nat at 8:27 AM on January 26

My favorite is not operating currently, but you could fly on a real Boeing jet nonstop from Monterey, California, to San Francisco. Just about 100 miles / 170km by road, substantially less as the crow flies. I regularly drive longer than that for day trips down to Monterey. I'm almost certain you would not even reach typical cruising altitude.. What's especially funny is that there is limited stop bus service between the Monterey airport and SFO that operates 16 departures a day. It's the Bay Area, traffic can be really bad, but the hassle factor of the flight would be off the charts, especially since SFO has limited airside transfers so you'd likely have to go through security again.
posted by wnissen at 9:59 AM on January 26

My favorite is not operating currently, but you could fly on a real Boeing jet nonstop from Monterey, California, to San Francisco.

We have a similar Boeing 737 flight between Colorado Springs and Denver! The airports are 70 miles apart, and the flight time is listed as about 45 minutes, but most of that is taxiing. You're in the air about 19 minutes, and you never reach anything resembling normal cruising altitude so you just sort of skim over the eastern fields. I was once one of only two passengers on this flight.

The whole thing feels a lot like a ride on a bus with wings, but the COS airport is tiny and we have limited service, so we're obliged to drive or get a flight through Denver most of the time. There's this whole elaborate dance of checking tickets and connection times and parking fees and rush hour and winter weather driving over the pass, just to calculate whether it's better/cheaper/faster to drive or fly.

One notable risk: Our airport is so tiny that if your plane breaks, there's very little chance of a replacement plane coming that day, so you just have to hang out and see what happens. Which is how I can tell you that the good people at the lone restaurant in the COS terminal will happily pour you a double whiskey at 6:15 a.m.
posted by mochapickle at 12:27 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]

What I find most interesting about this question is the assumption readers would know what Whitehorse, YT meant but needed to explain that Frankfurt was in Germany

There are many Frankforts in the United States which might be more explicable as direct flights from Whitehorse than a transatlantic one.
posted by praemunire at 1:33 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]

Ha, biffa, fair point -- praemunire's reading is right. I just wanted to be clear that it's not one of the Frankf(u/o)rts in North America :) (I figured folks either knew what/where Whitehorse was or not)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:35 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

Yakutia Airlines flies seasonally direct from Anchorage - Petropavlosk (Kamchatka), which I think is the only way to ‘cross’ the Pacific on a narrowbody plane.
posted by ambrosen at 6:32 AM on January 27

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