By Tanner Saunders
Updated: August 30, 2018

During his time as a senator for the Grand Canyon State, John McCain made frequent trips between Phoenix, Arizona and the nation’s capital. But thanks to an antiquated law that McCain tried to change, those flights weren’t direct to Washington, D.C.

Due to the federal Perimeter Rule established in 1966 and updated in the mid-1980s, flights in and out of D.C.’s Reagan National Airport are limited to a 1,250-mile flying radius, locking out Phoenix, which is 1,979 miles away. In 1999, McCain, who served in D.C. for over 30 years, attempted to change the law in an effort to gain more flights and business for Phoenix-based America West Airlines. Though McCain’s efforts ultimately failed, Congress made an exemption that allowed three daily nonstop flights from Phoenix to Reagan National.

Senator McCain wasn’t on them.

As a response to critics who claimed the senator simply wanted the flights to shorten his personal commute, McCain vowed to continue taking flights that included a layover. “To John, that was such an abhorrent thing to be accused of, he just took it off the table and said, ‘Okay, I won’t fly it,'” Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines and former executive at America West — the airlines later combined through a series of mergers — told USA Today. “I don’t think any other member [of Congress] would make that statement.”

While it was inconvenient, McCain stuck to his convictions, occasionally missing events or meetings because of delays at layover airports. Once, McCain missed introducing President George W. Bush at an event in Phoenix because of a canceled connecting flight. Senator Jon Kyl, who took the direct flight from Washington, D.C., replaced him. “He wouldn’t take the nonstop even to get to an event on time,” Parker said.

Though McCain continued to reject the nonstop route for many years after the controversy diminished, he began taking the flight in more recent times. Backing up the notion that the senator was truly a family man, McCain opted for the nonstop flight to avoid missing the graduation of one of his children.

The late senator, who died of glioblastoma on Saturday, will lie in state at the Arizona State Capitol on Wednesday and a memorial service will be held for him at Phoenix Baptist Church on Thursday. Afterwards, a small private service will be held with Arizona National Guard members before McCain makes his final flight from Arizona to Washington, D.C., where he will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. A memorial service will be held on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. with former presidents and political opponents Barack Obama and George W. Bush scheduled to speak.

McCain would have celebrated his 82nd birthday on Aug. 29.

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