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

Filed Under: Other Airlines

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)

Comments
  1. I believe there are border restrictions at the moment when crossing by land into Mexico, but the restrictions do not apply to air.

  2. My guess would be a combination of volume (probably easier taking 10ish trucks across the border, less chance of a delay with the land border closed for a while, and potentially a place for the plane to hang out during the day when the cargo ramp is likely full (as FedEx planes usually fly at night). SAN doesn’t have a ton of spots for a cargo plane, so the latter is my best guess.

  3. Need to compare the emissions of this flight agsinst those of trucks carrying the same amount of cargo the same distance to quantify the environmental harm / benefits.

    Obviously Fedex is making enough money operating these flights to make it worth their while and that of the company wanting their cargo transported.

  4. I’ve driven across the border many times from TJ into San Ysidro. It takes hours. Even during a light day it’s 90 minutes. During the ‘rona there have been border wait times up to 7 hours.

  5. The Trump admin has underfunded customs along the US border as a art of their anti-immigrant strategy. Waits can be extremely long.

  6. It’s all about cut off times and the maquiladora manufacturing operation. It allows at least 3-4 hours additional manufacturing in Mexico, with the replenishment of parts into the manufacturing going into Tijuana. Fuel has gotten cheaper and the airfreight rates have gone up.

  7. Let me guess, Business Guy will call this fake news?

    “Wait times at the ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border have soared as the Trump administration diverts officers to handle an influx of immigrants, leaving trucks backed up for hours and industry leaders warning of possible produce shortages and supply-chain interruptions.

    The clogged checkpoints are frustrating bankers, business leaders, local residents and even Mexico’s foreign minister, who called the reassignment of hundreds of border officers to other parts of the nearly 2,000-mile boundary a “very bad idea.” The shift in enforcement efforts is overwhelming legal checkpoints and impeding the free flow of goods and services, in some cases increasing wait times about fivefold.

    On Monday, cargo trucks waited up to two hours to cross the bridge from Mexico into Brownsville, Tex., a city that had no delays at this time last year. On El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas, cars and SUVs idled for 160 minutes, up from 45 minutes a year ago. Southern California’s Otay Mesa cargo processing section took 270 minutes to push trucks through its crossing this week, up from 50 minutes last year.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/wait-times-at-us-mexico-border-soar-as-officers-are-reassigned-to-deal-with-migrants/2019/04/10/2d1d30f4-5bae-11e9-842d-7d3ed7eb3957_story.html

    Thats from 2019. You might also recall this summer, Trump took even more customs agents off border duty and sent them to Portland etc to harass people for using the first amendment to protest.

    Of course theyre blaming corona for that, even though clearly the admin doesnt give half a crap about corona.

    “The latest move by Customs and Border Protection to slow traffic from Mexico into the U.S. has caused border traffic jams stretching for miles and waits exceeding 10 hours for those crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.”

    https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-08-25/border-lines-stretch-miles-waits-10-hours-coronavirus-crackdown

    10 hour waits is why Fedex is running this flight.

  8. Probbaly because dealing with CBP at land crossing is a pain in the ass vs airport. The type of red tape not to mention time is also slightly different. If it was a plane that would otherwise be idle and pilots who are already on the payroll anyways its not much marginal cost compared to trucking, which is EXTREMELY expensive these days.

  9. They have to do this. With the border restrictions and also they closed several lanes so traffic can back up as many as 8 hours. I live here in San Diego and there was an article a few weeks ago about a lady that had a heart attack while waiting to cross.

    Friends that go over have told me it can be hellish waiting if you don’t have Global Entry or Sentri. It’s much quicker for Fed Ex vs. crossing via trucks.

  10. The land border crossing is a mess…a mixture of volume, Covid and politics with a dash of illegal shipments thrown in. One shipment flagged by CBT will embargo the entire load. I’d fly it too!

  11. Lucky, why did you not place my comment with direct citations from the WaPo and LA Times but allow dee’s comment attacking me to remain?

  12. I’ve seen UPS fly a 757 from MIA to FLL occasionally. But I see that’s 21 miles, so not as short, but still must be an interesting flight.

  13. @James if it rains in your neighborhood is Trump to blame?

    I think regardless of who in in the Office, the crossing times in a pandemic are higher.
    Here is the link to the commercial crossing at Otay. When I ran this it was averaging 90 + minutes. This seems reasonable considering the traffic and need for inspection of the load.

  14. While it is a very odd and short flight it makes perfect sense.

    FedEx had a direct flight from MEM to TIJ but it was discontinued earlier this year.

    My guess is FedEx decided to instead fly that volume from Memphis to San Diego on the morning flight and then use the 757 from the daily OAK – SAN flight that would have been idle all day to transport the cargo across the border. This provides earlier delivery to customers in Tijuana then having to cross the border via truck.

    It also now provides a later pickup for customer in Tijuana as FX70 will feed cargo from TIJ to SAN. Cargo will be sorted in SAN and placed on one of the three nightly FedEx hub flights to MEM, IND or OAK. At certain times of the year there is also an AFW flight.

    Long story short it seems like better asset usage for FedEx and still provides organizations in Tijuana with access to global connectivity without having to cross the U.S/MX Border which could slow down transit by 1 day.

  15. A lot of this transit of goods over the border wouldn’t be necessary if politicians did not sell out American jobs in the past with unfair trade deals that send production to Mexico. Ending the war on drugs would also bankrupt the cartels and human traffickers, eliminate the criminal element around drugs, and allow customs and border patrol to focus only on stopping illegal aliens.

    The only thing we should buy from Mexico is Mexican Coke.

  16. As someone who lives in San Diego, I can attest to the fact that the border wait approaches 90 minutes on most days according to my Mexican friends. Also, US Insurance companies do not insure cars in Mexico so one has to have special Mexican coverage. Not sure if that is the same for Cargo trucks but I can’t imagine their risk would be lower.

  17. These flights don’t really have anything to do with land border crossing issues. The only flights that FedEx operates in Tijuana are these two daily flights. Almost everything going to or from Tijuana is going to move through the FedEx hub in Memphis, but Fedex does not operate flight between TIJ and MEM.

    What’s happening is the flight departs TIJ in the early evening for SAN, is loaded with additional cargo from there and continues to MEM. Then the following morning a flight from MEM to SAN arrives, unloads it’s domestic cargo, then continues to TIJ. This allows for overnight service between the Tijuana market and the US.

    The alternative would be to run separate flights between TIJ/MEM and SAN/MEM daily, but that obviously would be less cost and environmentally effective.

  18. No mention is made either about the additional air and noise pollution over Imperial Beach. We already have day and night helicopters, our eyes are burning, our houses have a black residue and we don’t need any more flights or new flight paths. The public should be informed and should have something to say about what is happening to the air we breathe and the additional pollution from these flights.

  19. Land crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is the busiest land crossing in the world. And since Tijuana is a border town, more locals have lived/worked in the US or already speak English. So it makes sense a Tijuana local would be ordering a product from the US and in a way, it is already in the US market

  20. @Lenora Porcella

    IB was a sleepy little town when the Navy built its outlying field there. 1917 it was an Army Air Corps base. The Navy came soon after, and between Brown Field 3 miles east in Otay, in 1918 the two fields were used to train aviators. Now I know you live in IB and think it came first but these military and now civilian airports have precedent over the newer homes. Everyone purchasing a home must sign to acknowledge the airports, the noise, the flight path etc. I know it may seem dirty now, but back in the 40s through the 60s there were much more dirty skys, and pollution.

  21. @ Jackson Henderson

    Coke was invented in the US. Is there anything in Mexican coke that US cannot produce? (Cane sugar?)

  22. Interesting, carrying this much cargo would require how many truck drivers to travel vs how many pilots? Is this strategy accidentally pandemic resilient?

  23. I live up in Northwest Washington and I witnessed UPS flying I’ve believe a 767 from YVR to yxx. Thanks william. Lynden wa

  24. FedEx doesn’t want to forgo their runway slot, and they can minimize fuel dumping/use by taking the shortest flight possible.

  25. @James wrote: “You might also recall this summer, Trump took even more customs agents off border duty and sent them to Portland etc to harass people for using the first amendment to protest.”

    First amendment to protest? That’s what you call looting, destroying public and private property as well as physical violence causing injuries and death? SMH

  26. @Chad C: “ Coke was invented in the US. Is there anything in Mexican coke that US cannot produce? (Cane sugar?)”

    US sugar producers make lots of sugar from both sugar cane and sugar beets, but at much higher cost than foreign cane sugar producers. To protect US sugar producers, the US imposes tariffs on imported sugar that wipes out the cost advantage. As well, cheap sugar from Cuba is banned from importation into the US. US corn producers receive big subsidies, which makes corn products, like high fructose corn syrup, cheaper than sugar. Hence, US soft drink bottlers almost all use cheaper HFCS rather than sugar to sweeten their soft drink products.

    Mexican Coke bottlers are able to use cheap imported cane sugar, and since this produces a product with a taste many consumers prefer, they use cane sugar almost exclusively.

    US legislators who support high sugar tariffs and high corn subsidies are highly responsive to the agri-business lobby and the associated political donations. US Coca-Cola drinkers have no such lobby, and are thus not really considered when formulating trade policy.

  27. <> No, that isn’t true. No one must sign anything when buying, things were much better in the 1960’s… and before Osama Bin Laden. There used to be a good neighbor agreement that the Navy now ignores. People’s health should be at least as important as helicopter traing and package delivery… probably more!

  28. It all comes down to time and money. That plane flies down from Oakland every morning and sits idle at SAN all day. Engineers figured out that by using this idle plane to cross international freight from TJ the company will save $7 million a year. They basically eliminated the need to use contract trucking companies to cross the freight across the border.

  29. I flew that plane on March 2nd! Who knew I would be famous. A few commenters were close for the reasoning! Nothing to do with politics or customs. Reach out if you want a few more fun tidbits.

  30. We operate these flights because Trans border trucking is unreliable and flights can guarantee shipment transit times. It’s much more cost effective to operate this flight than to refund thousands of customers because a truck got delayed at the border.

  31. Answer, no joke: fresh “sushi” from Baja California transferred via SAN to US and Japanese restaurants! Timing is everything and then it is just in transit cargo at SAN

  32. DH,
    You probably don’t know or care that you are disrupting life in the South Bay and now flying over neighborhoods that never had this kind of airport noise. Why not fly a little farther south, fly over the Tijuana River Valley instead of people’s homes? We have enough noise and air pollution in Imperial Beach so be a good neighbor, would you?

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