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A few weeks ago I had a fun single day of flying to Los Angeles and back, the only purpose of which was to fly the shortest commercial flight in the United States. For quite a while I’d wanted to make the quick hop from Sonoma County Airport to San Francisco, a mere 66 miles in straight-line distance.

I had a $75 United voucher to burn, and as I hadn’t found anything else on which to use it, booking an $86 one-way ticket from Santa Rosa to LAX was the best I could do. I then used an Alaska voucher from our delayed Disneyland flights for the return segment (SEE: Turning 20,000 Amex points into 25,000 Alaska miles and $500), making this is very cheap trip out of pocket, less than $20.

No longer a farewell

My original plan was to fly the third-to-last scheduled flight on this shortest of routes, as United (at the time) planned to discontinue it and switch all service out of Santa Rosa to Denver. But United quietly backpedaled on this decision and is keeping the STS-SFO hop. The service has been cut substantially, though. Rather than 2-3 daily flights, there is only one out at 6:00 a.m. with a return late in the evening. I’d wanted to be on the very last flight out, but my work schedule at the time consisted of a packed day of meetings (this also changed prior to the flight) so I booked a trip on Wednesday instead.

While the discontinuation of the service is what prompted me to book, I decided to still make the hop even after United changed their mind. Everything was already in place, and it made for a fun little day of flying and writing, as well as some plane-spotting at LAX.

A small airport with big plans

If you’re not familiar with Sonoma County Airport, it is very much on the small side. Served for years by essentially only Alaska Airlines, the airport itself is nearly as small as my home airport of Arcata-Eureka (ACV). However, service has increased significantly in the past couple years, and Sonoma County is now served by United, American and Sun Country, as well as Alaska.

The plan is to expand the terminal to meet this demand, but for now, the United and American check-in counters are inside a double-wide trailer. No joke. They had to put them somewhere. And a temporary building until they get the new terminal constructed will have to do for a while. To get to the security checkpoint, you have to exit and then re-enter the main terminal. Post-security you pass through the old waiting area, which looks totally forlorn now. Luckily, it appears it isn’t used anymore. It would be a disaster with only eight chairs.

a room with chairs and a table

All gates are now out of a temporary tent-like structure, and that is where I waited before boarding the tiny CRJ that would take me the short distance to SFO. There are far more chairs than were in the old area, and there is even an actual cafe. STS is really moving up!

people sitting in a building with computers

Boarding the shortest flight in the U.S.

Boarding started right on time, and it wasn’t long until we were all headed out to our little CRJ in the rain. I was in seat 4A, a forward window where I could have an unobstructed view for the short hop.

a plane with people on it

It makes sense that United/SkyWest flies the smallest possible aircraft (that they have) on the shortest flight in the U.S. I’m still not a fan, and much prefer the E175s that they put on the ACV-SFO hop now and then. But you can put up with pretty much anything for 15 minutes!

Taxi was the usual United MO where you depart the gate and then sit for a while. I’m sort of glad the pilots did this, as we had plenty of time, and the wait allowed it to get a bit lighter outside so I could take photos and video. The flight is blocked for an hour, so it wasn’t like we were going to arrive late!

I also had time to read most of an article in United’s in-flight magazine. I have to wonder what poor soul got this lovely assignment.

a magazine with a man sitting on a balcony

We departed a full 27 minutes after pushing back from the gate. We could have literally flown to SFO, touched down, and headed right on back in that same time!

a screen shot of a flight schedule

Don’t blink. You’ll miss it.

The flight time clocks in at 15-19 minutes, depending on the takeoff and landing patterns at each airport. Flightaware calculated the flight time as 22 minutes, but the path is also a bit off from what I saw in the app. We did not make that odd pass over SFO. Instead, we simply landed on runway 19R. Which was odd, since I’ve both never landed on this runway in either direction, and never seen planes landing from the Bay side. Typically, these runways operate from the opposite as take-off only, with the vast bulk of traffic landing on 28L and 28R.

a map of a city

The flight truly is ridiculously short. Here is a time-lapse of the whole thing so you can experience it in 40 seconds:


I’m glad United is keeping this service. It’s pretty cool to have the shortest flight in the U.S. so close to home. I’m not sure I’ll have a reason to fly it again, but it was a fun little ride! I spent a few hours in two different lounges at LAX, and then headed right on back to STS that same afternoon.

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