The ever-adventurous Tom Scott (previously) took the world’s shortest flight between the islands of Papa Westray and Westray in the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. The trip itself took approximately 80-90 seconds and went the length of just 2 kilometers (1.3 miles) over the sparsely populated area. Scott was less than impressed.
I took the world’s shortest flight. It was underwhelming. The flight between Papa Westray and Westray takes 80-90 seconds and covers about 2km. Why does it exist? And what’s it like? On a rainy day in the Orkney Islands, I went to find out.
Because the noise of the airplane was so loud and masks were required, Scott turned to Sam Denby of Half as Interesting to explain the reason why airplanes are the preferred means of traveling between the islands.
You see, the Orkney Islands are a sparsely-populated archipelago. The vast majority of their 22,000-strong population lives on what’s known, despite its island status, as the “mainland”, leaving only about 4,000 on the outer islands. These outer islanders need ways of getting to the mainland, of course, but bridges are expensive…while ferries do operate throughout the archipelago, they’re slow and lack a direct connection to onward travel. Therefore, the answer is airplanes.
These short inter-island flights are considered to be “milk runs”.
…flights to Westray and Papa Westray are subsidized through the UK’s public service obligation scheme, meaning only a small portion of Loganair’s revenue is earned through selling the flight’s £17 or £18 tickets. Still, filling a nine-passenger plane to Papa Westray, in particular, with its 90-person population would be difficult even at rock bottom prices. Price elasticity only goes so far. Therefore, Loganair uses a network design referred to as a “milk run”. Essentially, it means operating a plane like a bus or train.