FedEx’s 18 Mile Flight Across The US-Mexico Border

Long time readers will know that I have a bit of an obsession with random, unusual, and surprising flights, whether they’re operated by passenger or cargo planes. From the 64 year old cargo plane that used to fly over my home in Miami, to Ethiopian Airlines 777s flying to Miami, to Thai Airways 777s flying to Alexandria, to Swift Air deportation flights to Brownsville, I just find this all to be interesting.

I could spend all day looking at flight tracking apps, and I love when readers share their observations as well. That brings us to this post, thanks to a heads up from reader Casey.

Fedex’s San Diego to Tijuana flight

For the past several months, FedEx seems to be operating at least one daily roundtrip flight between San Diego and Tijuana. These flights are operated by FedEx Boeing 757-200s, with flight number FX69 to the US, and FX70 to Mexico.

What makes this so interesting is that the direct air distance between the two airports is just 18 miles. The two cities are so close to one another that there’s even the Cross Border XPress, which is a bridge intended for those in San Diego who want to fly out of Tijuana. Often airfare is cheaper out of Tijuana, or maybe there’s a nonstop flight to your destination out of Tijuana, but not out of San Diego.

From San Diego to Tijuana the flight generally seems to take off into the west, make a 180, and then circle back around to land in Tijuana.

From Tijuana to San Diego the flight generally seems to fly in an “S” shape, given winds and the need to line up runways.

Based on looking at flights in both directions in the past week, the flights seems to:

  • Have a duration between six minutes and 25 minutes
  • Fly an actual distance between 29 miles and 110 miles
  • Generally fly at a maximum altitude of 5,000 feet

What’s the logic for this flight?

At first when I saw this route I wondered if this was maybe part of a larger “milk run,” as it’s common for cargo airlines to have many stops between an origin and destination in order to drop off and pick up cargo along the way. However, in this case the plane just flies from San Diego to Tijuana and back, so that doesn’t appear to be the case.

I’m by no means an expert on FedEx or cargo operations (like I said, I just find this interesting), so I’d love to hear what you guys think:

  • Presumably it’s much faster to transport cargo across the border by plane rather than by truck? If so, anyone have a sense of how much of a time difference we’re talking about? Is the customs screening process just different, is the issue the amount of time it takes to even get to the border checkpoint, or what?
  • Looking at flight tracking, it looks like this flight was operated for the first time on March 2, so is this in fact related to the pandemic? I know there have been added restrictions at the US-Mexico border due to coronavirus, so is that making it even more complicated to send cargo by land rather than air?
  • This also has me wondering whether there’s a shorter regularly scheduled jet cargo flight operated anywhere (or at least to & from the US)?

Understandably I think a lot of people may raise environmental concerns about this flight, because it sure does seem wasteful. For example, there was quite a bit of controversy when Qatar Airways Cargo operated a 24 mile cargo flight between Maastricht to Liege.

At the same time, I would guess that FedEx isn’t operating this flight for “fun” given how much more expensive it must be than the alternative. Presumably this is what FedEx actually needs in order to be able to offer fast shipping between the US and Mexico?

Bottom line

Fedex is operating a 757 daily between San Diego and Tijuana, which has to be one of the shorter cargo routes operated to & from the US by a plane of that size. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, so if anyone has more details, I’d love to hear them!

(Featured image courtesy of Timo Jager)