The world’s shortest commercial flight and me


For an aerophile one of the highlights of a trip to the Orkney Isles in Scotland is an opportunity to experience the world’s shortest commercial flight. The trip, between Westray and Papa Westray, takes anywhere from 75 to 180 seconds, depending on the winds. Indeed, standing at one airport you can see the other, albeit across a small strait of water.

Our pilot, getting ready to depart Kirkwall for Westray and Papa Westray.

So when I started making plans for our trip to the Shetland and Orkney Islands, getting on the flight was a must-do event. I even managed to disguise it somewhat as just what we needed to do in order to get up to Westray to spend a night there. Of course, that ruse fell apart in a hurry when I realized that I actually had to book us from Kirkwall to Westray to Papa Westray and then a ferry back to Westray because of the routings on the day we were flying, but we moved past that and on to the excitement of being in the islands.

A warning sign on the side of the Papa Westray airport building

On the day of the trip I was rather giddy until I noticed that we landed on Westray headed west. That meant that we’d also be taking off to the west and Papa Westray is to the east. My “shortest flight” was actually going to be somewhat longer than expected. I happened to be sitting in the row of seats right behind the captain and I started chatting with him about this predicament.

Me: So, we’re going to be taking off to the west, too, since we landed that way, huh?

Him: Yup.

Me: So the flight will be a couple minutes long instead of just over a minute. I guess we’re taking the long route.

Him: Hehehe, yeah, the long route.

Me: Oh, well. I guess I’ll just have to come back to make another go at getting the short version.

He chuckled again at this point and then turned back around to get the engines started and get us headed over to Papay. And I started recording the video. I very quickly realized that we were actually taxiing the west, not taking off to the west. Woohoo!

Just under two minutes later we had touched down at Papa Westray and pulled to a stop in front of the hut that serves as the airport facility. The pilot switched off the props and then turned back over his shoulder and – with quite a smug smile on his face – asked, “So was one minute twenty short enough for you?”

Yes, yes it is.

All in all a very cool experience, even if only for just over a minute. Loganair, the operator of the flights, has special tourist flights a couple days each week in the summer for folks who just want the flight and then to get back to the Orkney Mainland (and get a special price) rather than stay out on the islands. Either way, if you’ve made it all the way to Kirkwall it is worth spending the hour – or the day – to get up to fly between Westray and Papa Westray.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

7 Comments

  1. That’s awesome! Thanks for posting the video of the entire flight. 🙂 Any idea what altitude you reached during the flight? I’m very curious…

  2. Altitude was only a couple hundred feet, I’d guess. I didn’t ask but we didn’t get particularly high and there was no reason to since there was literally nothing between the two airports, as you can see.

  3. Dude!

    Congrats.
    I’ve wanted to take that flight for a while now; just have not had a chance to make it happen. Do they still offer a certificate?

    Kerwin.

  4. They do still offer a certificate, especially on the dedicated tourist flights that they run in the summer. I saw one on the wall in the Westray airport waiting room. I didn’t bother asking for one though. The video and memory of the conversation with the pilot, as well as the bag tags with the PPW code on them, were sufficient souvenirs for me.

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