The Strange Reason John McCain Refused to Take Direct Flights From Phoenix to D.C. for 30 Years 

John McCain: Arizona senator's death overshadows U.S. Senate primary


When federal restrictions prevented airlines from flying directly between Washington, D.C. and any city more than 1,250 miles away, Sen. John McCain took a stand on behalf of his adoptive hometown of Phoenix.

The federal perimeter rule required that all flights to and from Reagan National Airport must be shorter than 1,250 miles, and in 1999, the six-term senator led an effort to repeal it, hoping this would improve business for Phoenix-based airline America West and benefit Arizona in general, according to Travel + Leisure. The flight between Phoenix and Washington, D.C. is 1,979 miles.

The Vietnam vet’s bill failed, but it did encourage Congress to start making “beyond-perimeter exemptions.” Starting in 2000, America West began service from Reagan National Airport to Phoenix, USA Today reports, but McCain never boarded the flight.

Some opponents of the senator suggested McCain’s efforts to eliminate the rule were to shorten his commute, not to benefit the people of Arizona, something he felt he couldn’t stand for.

John McCain: Arizona senator's death overshadows U.S. Senate primary
John McCain and Barack Obama
Win McNamee/Getty

“To John, that was such an abhorrent thing to be accused of, he just took it off the table and said, ‘OK, I won’t fly it,”’ American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, then the CEO of America West, told USA Today. “I don’t think any other member [of Congress] would make that statement.”

McCain’s stubbornness once got in the way of his professional commitments, Parker shared. The late senator was flying to an event where he was slated to introduce then-President George W. Bush, but his connecting flight was canceled.

The man who would stand in for him, another Arizona Republican, had taken the direct flight.

“He wouldn’t take the nonstop even to get to an event on time,” Parker said.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, also a Republican from Arizona, backed up Parker’s story about McCain’s commitment, as well. Flake began his career in Washington, D.C, in 2001, and said it wasn’t until “years and years” later that McCain finally took the direct flight.

Flake remembers that when he decided to make the switch, he said, “I’ve done my penance, I guess.”

Parker said that one of the first times McCain booked the direct flight was to arrive home in time to see one of his seven children graduate. When there wasn’t any controversy afterward, Parker recalled that McCain thought, “OK, no one seems to care. I think the statute of limitations has run out.”


McCain died on Saturday at age 81, one day after his family announced that he would be stopping treatment for his stage-four brain cancer. He was diagnosed in July 2017.

“Last summer, Senator John McCain shared with Americans the news our family already knew: he had been diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma, and the prognosis was serious,” the family’s statement said. “In the year since, John has surpassed expectations for his survival. But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.”

McCain will be laid to rest on Saturday at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland, with a private service at the National Cathedral beforehand. On Friday, there will be a public viewing in the United States Capitol before a procession from to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial.

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