The Longest 51 Mile Flight In History

October 11, 2009

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

Many years ago, I had to go from San Jose to Monterey for a retreat.  I didn’t have a car, but there was a really cheap flight from SJC to MRY.  The distance between the two airports is 51 miles and it was about a 20 minutes flight.  So I booked it and soon was boarding the Air California 737 anticipating this very short hop to my destination.  The plane was bound for Ontario, CA, with a stop in Monterey. We took off from SJC and were soon on final approach to MRY.  I could see out my window that it was very foggy outside – not at all unusual for Monterey.  Everything seemed to be going normally – the gear went down, the flaps were extended, and I could just begin to see a faint hint on things on the ground through the fog. 

Suddenly, the pilot pulled up, raised the gear and began climbing out.  After a few minutes he came on the PA to announce that the ceiling had dropped below the allowable limit, so he was going around for another try.  Well, the ceiling kept lifting and then falling again such that we tried to land 4 times, each time having to go around.  We then went into a holding pattern for about half an hour waiting for the ceiling to lift.  Finally it did, so we went in for a 5th try, only to have the ceiling drop again before we could land.  At this point, the pilot apologized to those of us who were going to Monterey (only about 5 of us as it turned out), and said he needed to proceed on to Ontario.  So we did, landing there about 45 minutes later. 

Once on the ground, they booked me on a return flight to SJC, and then on another later flight that was going to MRY and then on to Ontario.  So after an hour, I flew back to SJC and waited 45 minutes for the next flight to MRY.  We made 3 tries to land and MRY, but again could not get in because of the fog.  The pilot who had been informed of our previous plight decided to go back to SJC and drop us off to take a bus ride to MRY.  So we flew back to SJC, and were taxiing back to the gate, when the pilot came on the PA with good news.  “Monterey has cleared up, and it should now be no problem to get in there.”  So we taxied straight back to the runway and took off for Monterey, which, of course, was fogged in again by the time we got there.  This time they didn’t even bother to try, they just flew all of us to Ontario.

So not to belabor the story – that day I ended up taking 4 round trips between SJC and Ontario with I lost count of how many attempts to land at MRY.  I’d estimate more than 15.  I finally ended up spending the night at the San Jose Airport (they would not pay for a hotel because weather is not their fault and it was not worth a bus ride home and back) – and arrived at MRY on the first flight the next morning (without incident) more than 24 hours after I first embarked.  I probably could have walked that 51 miles in less time.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

david October 11, 2009 at 5:58 pm

i call a false story


bp October 12, 2009 at 9:23 am

You seriously booked, purchased and took a flight (multiple times) AND slpet in an airport for 51 miles?

Many years ago? Before the invention of rental cars or other forms of ground transportation?


Demotage October 12, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Yes, I seriously did. It was 40 years ago. My first year of grad school. While dinosaurs were actually extinct then, there were, in fact, have rental cars etc. Money was another issue. I was living at the time on a stipend of $350/month. I spent something like 10-20% of that on the flight (which in and of itself was stupid, but I loved to fly and hadn't done it very many times at the time; I was having an adventure – just ended up being more of one that I expected). But having spent it, there was no money for a rental car or other transportation, I'd just moved to the area and didn't know anyone – so yeah, I was kinda stuck with the plane.

As for David – all due respect, but I don't write false stories here. I've gained a little more flying experience since 40 years ago – have 1.5 million miles just on one airline – estimate that I'm pushing 2 million on all airlines I've flown. I'm not saying this to brag – there are lots of people who travel more than I, but when you fly that much, you tend to have things happen to you that are out of the usual. Almost all of the flights I've taken had nothing remarkable happen at all. But I have a dozen or so unusual true stories that happened to me while I was flying. If you don't want to read them, don't. I think that about two-thirds of them have been posted, so you won't have Demotage to kick around much longer ;-).


Demotage October 12, 2009 at 12:11 pm


bad editing on the fly…

"…..there were, in fact, rental cars etc."


david October 12, 2009 at 1:29 pm

i highly doubt that they would just turn back to San Jose for a few passangers, that makes no sense in any kind of way, at any time, economically that is stupid, it is stupid for every other passanger on the flight, i just dont see how that would happen

i have also flown extensively and seen (and heard) many things, but from your story that is completely crazy and no airline at anytime would do that

and yeah i know airline tickets were expensive back than (inflation included) and unless the majority of people were going to Monteray than they wouldnt have turned the plane around, and what about where the planes final destination? wouldnt they need that plane for the next flight?


Demotage October 12, 2009 at 2:50 pm

"…., i just dont see how that would happen"

..and yet, that is exactly what happened. Believe it or not – it's your right.


bp October 13, 2009 at 6:44 am

Painful…I am glad travel is "so much easier" now!?!?!

I for one believe your story…too much "craziness" to make up and for what, "Flight from Hell Glory"? I was just shocked at the fact that someone would take a plane flight for a 51 mile trip. Overall it may have been easier "back then", but now a-days you'd spend 80% more time waiting at the airport than actaully flying (on the actual point to point part).


saw October 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm

David… This story is COMPLETELY believable… airlines behave much differently now than they did back in the 50s, 60, and 70s… even in the 80s there was much more flexibility and "oddity" in airline patterns.

Until I read your comments though Demo, I was considering using the words "nuts" and "mentally lacking" with regards to your flight plans 😉

But I can see the interest in giving it a go. Bet you wish you'd have just hired a taxi after all that though. Too bad there weren't any frequent flier miles in those days, you'd probably have qualified for elite status and a free roundtrip based on segments alone…


Demotage October 13, 2009 at 7:30 pm


as you recognize, one does foolish things in one's yout. The funny thing is: besides sleeping in the airport, flying back and forth between SJC and ONT all day was more fun than the boring retreat I was supposed to be at.

An historical note: back then SJC was one terminal (the present terminal C), with maybe half a dozen non-jet bridge gates. Now they have squeezed 4 terminals (one under construction) into that small space. The place has become such a mess, I switched to SFO as my prefered airport.


Thi Halpern January 2, 2013 at 5:55 pm

This is a seriously funny and unfortunate story! Lol.


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