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Home > Flying the Plane > Why do airliners climb all the way up to 30,000 feet on very short hops?
Why do airliners climb all the way up to 30,000 feet on very short hops?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Friday, 30 December 2005 08:04

Hi Captain Lim,

One question I have always wondered about is, why, on very short hops (less than 300 miles), airliners will still climb all the way up to a 30,000 feet?

It seems to me that, if a flight were short enough, it would be more efficient to climb less and cruise at a lower altitude. Very often, like when flying the Spokane (GEG)-Seattle (SEA) route on the Boeing 737s, we climbed up to 33,000 feet or so, and only cruise there for maybe 10 minutes before starting to descend. Even on the Hawaiian carriers doing the super-short hops between islands, we will get up into the FL300s!

I know it*s more efficient to cruise at higher altitudes but is there ever a time in which it is more efficient to save some climbing time and cruise lower? Is it just a procedural thing to always climb to a higher level?

Thanks for your input on this matter. I recently discovered your website, and just can*t stop reading it. It*s incredibly informative!

Andy P.

Portland, Oregon.

Hi Andy,


A jet plane, in contrast to a turbo-prop plane, is more efficient when it cruises at a higher level. Of course, when the distance is short, there is no point climbing too high to achieve the best fuel economy. Normally, the FMC (Flight Management Computer) will be able to give the pilot the choice for the best level to cruise at. Even 10-minutes at cruising altitude is still worth the effort!

I still remember when I flew the Boeing 737 - the rule of thumb to work out the optimum cruising level for short hops of up to about 300 nautical miles was this formula: 10 per cent of the distance between the two airports. For instance, if the distance between A and B is 250 nautical miles, I would cruise at 25,000 feet or FL (Flight Level) 250. Similarly, for very short flights like a 150 miles flight, it would be FL 150, 300 miles, FL 300, etc.

So, where climbing high would be economical, a Boeing 737 will do so, even if it were to be for a very short period of time at the cruise. Hope that clears your curiosity.

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