Express Flight

The Orkney Islands are an archipelago in northern Scotland, about ten hours by car and ferry from Glasgow and 16 from London. All together, there are about 70 islands in the group, and roughly twenty of them are inhabited. Two such islands are Westray and, about three or so miles to its northwest, Papa Westray. Westray, the larger of the two, is home to roughly 550 people, while about five dozen others call the 3.5 square mile Papa Westray home.

Getting from Westray to Papa Westray, or back, seems like it would be a chore. Google Maps puts the trek at one hour, 27 minutes, including a seven mile ferry ride. But there’s an easier way. Both Westray and Papa Westray have tiny airports which connect these outer islands to Kirkwall, the largest town in the Orkneys (with a population of just over 8,500). These airports are serviced by Loganair, the Scottish airline, which includes Loganair Flight 353. That flight connects the two Westrays as a twice-daily shuttle which takes about two minutes.

In fact, one can watch a full Loganair Flight 353 trip, below:

(If that video doesn’t work, click here to watch it.)

The flight, of course, is the world’s shortest regular-scheduled commercial flight. The airline plans on the trip taking, on average, about a minute and a half to two minutes, but with favorable winds, it can be completed in about 45 seconds from takeoff to landing. (Taxiing on the runways probably accounts for multiples of that.) And the puddle jump is not just some sort of tourist thing — there is at least one major practical reason for the flight. As noted by the Daily Mail in an article from 2009, Papa Westray lacks a high school, and therefore, any students living on the island need to commute to Westray to get to class. When the ferry service between the islands needed repair, Loganair flew six such students over on Flight 353 — bringing them to Westray on a Tuesday and returning them on Thursday (after two nights staying with a host family) for most of the academic year.

Bonus fact: The Orkney Islands are also home to a breed of sheep called the North Ronaldsay, which are not allowed in the main area of the island in order to maintain the grasslands. The sheep are limited to foraging for food on the coasts, and, according to Wikipedia, eat primarily seaweed, which their bodies have adapted ways to digest. 

From the ArchivesGoing the Distance: Perhaps the world’s longest migration.

Related: Not one, but two photo jigsaw puzzles from the Orkney Islands, one from Westray and another from Papa Westray.

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