72 Hours With Alaska: A Video Preview Of the Milk Run

It’s been a long time since my last “72 Hours With” trip, but I’m happy to say that I have a new one for you. Earlier this month, I did the famed “Milk Run” with Alaska Airlines. While I initially thought it would just be a simple trip report, I quickly realized it was so much more than that.


Preview: A Video Preview Of the Milk Run
Part 1: Introduction to the Milk Run and Getting to Anchorage
Part 2: Aviation in Anchorage
Part 3: The Northern Part of the Milk Run
Part 4: Juneau and Alaska Seaplanes
Part 5: The Southern Part of the Milk Run
Part 6: Going Home and Wrapping Up

[Disclosure: Alaska paid for this trip]


The flights through Southeast Alaska — I did Anchorage-Cordova-Yakutat-Juneau one day and Juneau-Petersburg-Wrangell-Ketchikan-Seattle the next — are called the Milk Run for a quite literal reason. Alaska brings the milk to these communities, and eggs, diapers, etc. The airline is a lifeline, and it’s something that’s truly hard to fathom existing in the same way elsewhere in the US.

The timing wasn’t by accident. Alaska is retiring its 737-400 Combi aircraft this fall. The unique mix of cargo in the front with people in the back is something that’s already rare. But after October, if you fly the Milk Run, it will just be on a regular passenger aircraft. So, I joined Alaska’s SVP, External Communications Joe Sprague on a trip through the place where he earned his wings. (He learned to fly floats in Juneau.) It was a remarkable experience for me and it’s one I hope you enjoy hearing about.

On the flight home, I started writing… and writing… and writing. At nearly 10,000 words this is going to take a long time to edit and prepare for posting. That being said, I did get my video editing done and I’m pleased to start with this 9 minute 48 second video chronicling the ups and downs (again, literally) of the journey.

I realize this is a long video, but I couldn’t find a way to cut it down any further since I had so many flights with such stunning scenery. And really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I was able to get a meaningful look at the importance of Alaska and aviation in general to the 49th state.

I’ll have more for you soon.

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38 Responses to 72 Hours With Alaska: A Video Preview Of the Milk Run

  1. Cool video and itinerary! Clearly you had a ball based on your remarks. If you like these “milk run” itineraries, try one of the UA “Micronesia” island-hopper trips. I rode along on an old Continental-Air Micronesia B-727 multi-stopper out of GUM some decades back (now operated mostly with B-737-800s & B-757-200s) and found the experience similar to your recent Alaska adventure.

  2. I’m looking forward to reading and hearing this in its fullness. It reminds me of my own never-to-be-forgotten “milk run” trip on Continental/Air Micronesia: HNL-Midway-Kwajalein-Ponape-Truk back in the ’70’s. And one I never got to take on CO191: MCI-TUL-OKC-AMA-LBB-MAF-ELP-LAX. Perhaps the ultimate was on the original FL from MEM-STL-MCI-19 places in Kansas-DEN-CYS-LAR-CODY-BIL in a Convair 580. Bret, thanks for this reminder of the great “milk runs” of the past with this remaining one of our present time.

  3. Pete says:

    Watched it twice, beautiful, thanks! I remember flying on the National Airlines ‘milk run’ in the 70’s…..Jacksonville Tallahassee Panama City Pensacola Mobile and finally New Orleans, on a 727 and a few of these cities only 100 miles or so apart!

  4. A says:

    I’ve always wanted to do the Alaska run out to Adak. They do some amazing flights out to America’s last frontier.

  5. smkarizona says:

    Great video! You forgot the famous line about Juneau: There are only 3 ways into Juneau: Ship, plane or birth canal!

    • CF says:

      smkarizona – That’s a good line, and it’s true for probably 90% of the towns in Alaska (though some may not even have the ship option!)

  6. rud01 says:

    ——————————————–

  7. Chris says:

    Did they fly low just for you or is that normal operating procedures on those short hops ?

    • Charlie H says:

      That’s normal operating procedure. I flew JNU-PSG last year and the flight was flow under VFR!

    • CF says:

      christophe – That’s normal. Had the clouds been a bit higher, we would have actually flown Petersburg-Wrangell at a lower altitude using VFR. That’s the only leg we flew really low. Most were above 15,000 feet.

  8. Ben in DC says:

    Great video Cranky! Brought back some fond memories for me. Out of college, I took a job at a television station in Anchorage and took the Alaska Marine Highway system when I moved up. The ferry stopped in all of the cities you showed from Juneau south. I think Petersburg was my favorite (was told that smell in the air was the smell of money). Back then, I always wanted to make the trek through the panhandle on the old 737-200 Combi’s. Sad to think their replacements are already being phased out.

    If you ever want to see more of that scenery from the ground, I highly recommend booking a trip on the Alaska Marine Highway system.

  9. haolenate says:

    3:06 is another glacier – Eagle Glacier Far top right corner. Herbert Glacier is just to the southeast of it (but you normally don’t see it).

    :)

    • haolenate says:

      awe. and at 3:22 you didn’t point out the famous Mendenhall Glacier, visible from the airport :)

    • CF says:

      haolenate – I figured people might kill me if I kept pointing out glaciers. There are so many of them. But I was going to point out the Mendenhall when I write this up in greater details. That’s quite an imposing thing to see waiting for you at the end of a populated valley.

  10. Nice video. Though you haven’t lived until you’ve done the HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM 14.5 hour+ circle Mike run.

  11. Eric in ICT says:

    Stunning video and very cool opportunity, Brett. Look forward to the trip reports to come. I’ve always thought the approach to Seattle was pretty spectacular, especially from the north, but Alaska … just wow. Thanks for taking us along!

    • Ron says:

      Going to miss the combi. Flown the milk run several times from Anchorage to Juneau. When the weather is clear it is spectacular! That weather in SE Alaska is normal and adds to the excitement.
      We once had a traffic hold in JNU so took a scenic “detour” over the Taku Icefield behind JNU for about 20 minutes. Wow!
      You should try Alaska’s summer flight into Gustavus someday. Often depends on the weather but it is the gateway to spectacular Glacier Bay National Park

      • CF says:

        Ron – Yes indeed. The Juneau-Gustavus run (all of 41 miles) is really fascinating in that it’s an Essential Air Service-funded market but it’s only seasonal. Apparently “essential” doesn’t mean year-round up there.

        • Ron says:

          It is seasonal due to the tourist business at Glacier Bay. The Glacier Bay Lodge is open from late May until early September. It is the official park concessionaire that also runs the day tour by boat into the park and is the headquarters for all National Park Service activities. It’s a rustic places with plenty of atmosphere; there are other accommodations in Gustavus as well.

          Most visitors go into Glacier Bay by cruise ship. Only two are permitted to enter per day. Without a doubt, it is one of the most spectacular places in the state and a must-see on any visit to Alaska,.

  12. broadcreek48 says:

    Bravo Brett! What a joyous video. I have to watch it again.

  13. pddee says:

    That was terrific. Thanks for sharing a small tad of this unknown gem.

    Patrick Dee

  14. Anthony says:

    Magnificent scenery!
    And I’m curious: why is the Milk Run flown with a 737? It seems like a Q400 could do the job.

    • Chris Miller says:

      The combi has room for the ‘Milk’. It carry’s 4 igloos and 70 passengers. A q400 cant bring near that amount of freight.

    • CF says:

      Anthony – Chris is right about the size. The cargo capacity is important. 72 people combined with the cargo means passenger capacity is actually less than the Q. But now with these going away in favor of a dedicated freighter fleet and passenger-only aircraft, the math changes. I don’t think the Q is the right airplane still, since some of the flights up there can get fairly long, but an Embraer 175? That could be the future.

      • steve says:

        Can’t imagine it will be a newer 737 – even a -7. For sure not the -8 — every one I’m on has about a 10,000 ft rollout – the ‘bloated guppy’. No chance in these environs. Reminds me of 727 days. Presumably since they are splitting passenger from cargo, both will be smaller planes – very curious to see what they deploy.

        • CF says:

          Steve – It will be primarily 737-700s by the end of the year. Alaska has gotten rid of many of them because they wanted bigger aircraft. So the -700s that remain will be concentrated in Alaska (including the 3 dedicated freighters which are being converted now).

  15. JayB says:

    Spectacular! Put all your tech stuff aside, well, maybe except for your camera, and just look out the windows and take it all in. Just beautiful!

    What with your great weather at the start, wasn’t quit believing you were really in Alaska, and then, well, whatever those pilots are paid, I think they deserve more!

    Hope I can see as much as you did. Leaving Sunday to spend some time in Fairbanks and Denali. Europe this year, even my favorite, Switzerland, has to be put back until…well, whenever. Thanks.

    • Chris Miller says:

      Welcome to Alaska. A little dreary in Fairbanks today, but we had a drenching rain to suppress the forest fire hazard. We look forward to your visit. Good luck on the adventure, and enjoy the differences of Alaska.

      • Marie says:

        Welcome to Fairbanks, certainly not typical weather for us today. Hope you are able to enjoy it!

  16. Simon says:

    The combi aircraft are very fun to fly in. I flew a former Alaska Airlines 737-200 combi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Was a little harrowing, but really fun experience. Amazing the cargo being loaded in.

  17. Legend717 says:

    You were in Anchorage and didn’t tell us!?!?
    Come back soon!

  18. Leslie in Oregon says:

    Thank you for the video with your interlineations. Alaska is beyond magnificent, and I always enjoy flying to, from, and/or around it on Alaska Airlines. If you combine the experiences you had on these milk runs with an Alaska non-stop transcon, you’ll get an idea of why most of us in the Northwest prefer to fly Alaska, over any other airline, anywhere it goes.

  19. Finklestein McSchnauzerpoof says:

    I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Malaspina Glacier from the air. It was a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. That glacier is so huge that new growth forests are on it, and move with the glacier.

  20. Steve says:

    Thirty two year AS FA here….boy did this bring back memories! I haven’t flown the milk run in probably 20 years years but I think I’ll have to bid one for August. That’ll be the last month the SEA base has any combi flying. I’m sure that Andrea and Dave had you in stitches most of the flight! Thanks, Cranky!

    • CF says:

      Steve – Yes indeed. Andrea and Dave were fantastic, and they hadn’t flown the Combi in years either. Hopefully you can get on one to enjoy the ride one last time.

  21. Meghan Skornia says:

    I can’t wait for the report! Once in a lifetime

  22. Warren Smith says:

    That is a most interesting video. Several of the stops were the same as the troop ship stops when I went from Seattle to Seward in 1946. All the beauty we saw then is still there, in your outstanding video. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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