And so the adventure was over. After a night in Seattle, all I had to do was get back home. Unfortunately, I’m also back home from my vacation now. Look for new posts to start up again on Monday.
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 next morning, I woke up earlier than needed, but it gave me time to catch up on the emails I had been ignoring for a couple of days. I checked in online and found the exit row window open for no charge, so I switched over to it. My friend dropped me off at the airport, and I found the Pre Check line nearly empty. Once through, I wandered down to the end of the C concourse and found a power outlet where I could recharge.
Our flight started boarding early, and it was painfully slow. After they called rows 20 and higher, people started gathering to anticipate the next rows. But the next call was for premium class in rows 6 to 10 (a different order than on my way north to Anchorage). Then, when the line was empty, people started inching forward. The agent made a final call for rows 20 and higher. There was an audible chuckle in the gate area as all of us in rows 11-19 kept guessing incorrectly.
June 17, 2017
Alaska 906 Lv Seattle 929a Arr Los Angeles 1234p
Seattle (SEA): Gate C18, Runway 16C, Depart 3m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 69A, Runway 24L, Arrive 30m Early
N247AK, Boeing 737-990ER, Eskimo with Green colors, ~95% Full
Seat 17A, Coach
Flight Time 2h4m
Once onboard, the airplane had all the usual bells and whistles with power, blue mood-lighting, gigantic bins, etc. It was nice, but I couldn’t help but miss the old Combi. Granted, none of those flights were over 1.5 hours….
We pushed back on time and made our way to the runway. This airplane was whisper quiet compared to the 737-400 as we climbed into the still morning air.
I’ve seen Mt Rainier many times, but the view we had between thin cloud layers was one of the more incredible I can remember.
For some reason, however, it still didn’t quite resonate the way it should have. I just kept thinking about the glaciers and jagged peaks of Alaska. I may have only been gone for a couple of days, but there was something about the experience that really stuck to me and continues to stick with me more than a month later.
The flight attendants came through with drinks, and I opted for a hot tea.
I flipped open my laptop and the words continued to pour out. I spent the entire 2 hour flight writing up my thoughts from the trip.
We had a tailwind and were going to be early… really early. I knew what that meant; we’d have to wait for a gate at LAX. I was in no hurry, so the anticipation didn’t bother me.
Soon our descent began and we came down over the western end of the San Fernando Valley. After an eastbound turn toward downtown LA, we wound around to the west and landed. Then, despite a brief flicker of hope that we would have a gate, we taxied to the far end of the airport to wait. Another airplane was indeed in our spot. Even with the 15 minute wait, we still arrived half an hour early. I grabbed my bags and walked off in something of a daze.
Often I find myself exhausted after a trip like this, but I felt the opposite this time around. I actually felt energized from having seen a small slice of life in Alaska. I couldn’t help but revel in the symbiotic relationship between the people of Alaska and aviation. Seeing Alaska Airlines’ roots and its important role in the 49th state was something remarkable.
Oh sure, people in Alaska complain about the airline. Fares are too high. The Combis are too ratty. The Milk Run makes too many stops. None of those complaints are surprising, and some may be valid. In the end, it’s not an easy place to fly, but it’s an essential place to fly. Someone will always have a complaint, but it’s hard to imagine how another airline could swoop in and do even a fraction of what Alaska Airlines has built over the years.
The Combi was a truly remarkable fit for many of these communities, especially the smaller ones that have trouble filling up airplanes with people. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Alaska handles this. Many of these communities are funded by the US government’s Essential Air Service program. That may be considered a waste of money down in the lower 48 (I would agree in most cases), but in Alaska, it’s not. It’s actually, well, essential.
That doesn’t mean a 120+ seat airplane is going to be the right one for the job, but for now, that is Alaska’s plan. Its dwindling fleet of 737-700s will be concentrated in Alaska as much as possible. Three of those will be freighters, but the rest will carry passengers. That means there will be a lot more in the way of creature comforts including First Class, wifi, and power outlets. But can these markets all support that kind of airplane? Probably not. Were I a betting man, I’d say we’ll see the Embraer 175s up there some day. After all, those have almost the exact same seat count as the Combis, just without all the cargo.
But enough speculation. For now, I’ll just continue to enjoy my memories of the Combi, and I’ll go forward with a newfound better understanding of the importance of aviation in Alaska.
Thanks, obviously, to Joe Sprague, EVP External Relations at Alaska for taking me on this adventure. And thank you to all the people I encountered along the way. I tried to mention as many of you in this series as I could.