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The Alaska Airlines Milk Run: A Lifeline for Remote Alaska

The Alaska Airlines Milk Run: A Lifeline for Remote Alaska

BY HADI AHMAD Published on May 18, 2024 7 COMMENTS

Serving remote communities around the world poses a unique challenge. Sometimes, the only way to deliver vital supplies to these communities is by sea or air. Alaska, the "Last Frontier" is one such place where serving remote communities is limited to air or sea transport. The famed Alaska Airlines “Milk Run” service has provided a lifeline to various Alaskan communities for decades. 





History of The "Milk Run"


Photo: AeroXplorer | Ethan Peters


Alaska Airlines can trace its roots to the early 1930s when it started as "McGee Airways". The carrier would specialize in transporting various goods across Alaska with a fleet of bush aircraft.


Experienced bush pilots would transport mail, medicines, and furs to remote communities. Even today, the Alaska Milk Run serves as a vital lifeline for those communities with limited access. 


The term "Milk Run" refers to roundtrip services that facilitate the distribution and collection of vital supplies. In aviation, it refers to a scheduled flight with many stops on a routine service.


Alaska's Milk Run flights have been living up to their nickname since they started many years ago. In addition to milk, the flights deliver necessary supplies to towns solely dependent on air service due to the lack of roads and rail services.


More recently, the Milk Run has gained popularity amongst tourists as an exclusive service, allowing them to experience remote Alaska. The service operates between Seattle to Anchorage, making various stops along the way. At each stop, vital cargo is offloaded and transported to the local town.


Another reason for Milk Run’s immense popularity is that it allows tourists to enjoy unparalleled scenery. While you can see the same site on nonstop flights between Seattle and Anchorage, it's not the same as physically landing at a remote Alaskan airport surrounded by glaciers and mountains.


As Alaska First Officer Peter Michels said, "No other jet airline in the world does flying like we [Alaska Airlines] do in the State of Alaska."




The Milk Run Route


Photo: AeroXplorer | Brady Noble


The Milk Run serves seven communities along the Southeast coast of Alaska. Between Seattle-Tacoma, Washington (SEA) and Anchorage (ANC), the flights make stops in Ketchikan (KTN), Wrangell (WRG), Petersburg (PSG), Sitka (SIT), Juneau (JNU), Yakutat (YAK), and Cordova (CDV).


There are various Milk Run flights. Each has its specific route. Not all Milk Run flights make stops in each of the seven cities between Seattle and Anchorage.


AS61: Seattle - Juneau - Yakutat - Cordova - Anchorage

AS62: Anchorage - Juneau - Sitka - Ketchikan - Seattle

AS64: Anchorage - Juneau - Petersburg - Wrangell - Ketchikan - Seattle

AS65: Seattle - Ketchikan - Wrangell - Petersburg - Juneau - Anchorage

AS66: Anchorage - Cordova - Yakutat - Juneau - Seattle

AS67: Seattle - Ketchikan - Sitka - Juneau - Anchorage


The airport terminals in these smaller Alaskan communities are small buildings with tiny waiting areas. Interestingly, there are no super long TSA lines, baggage belts, or jetways. There are no restaurants either.


Usually, the employees working at these airports are rampers, customer service agents and cargo agents simultaneously.


The Milk Run Fleet


Photo: AeroXplorer | Jasson Cassady


Alaska Airlines' fleet of Boeing 737-400 Combi aircraft previously served the Milk Run. These aircraft featured a dedicated main deck cargo hold in the forward section with 72 passenger seats in the back.


Now that the 737-400s have been retired, the Milk Run flights are operated by a mix of Boeing 737-700, 737-800, and 737-900ER aircraft. No more Combi planes are running the flights these days.


While Alaska is truly the "Last Frontier" with numerous remote airports dotted across the state, many of those airports are served by smaller turboprop aircraft not operated by Alaska Airlines.


The Milk Run continues to provide vital supplies to communities along Alaska's Southeast coast. It is an exclusive service that keeps these communities connected with the world.

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Hadi Ahmad
Lifelong aviation enthusiast raised in Central Illinois. 777 is the best plane BTW.

Comments (7)

Mark Koverdan These are subsidized flights paid for with federal funding. However, alaska airlines charges more for a flight from Juneau to Ketchikan than it does for a flight from Seattle to Florida. Alaska airlines isn't doing these flights out of the goodness of their hearts! Let's put it that way.
56d ago • Reply
Sue Burnstin Mr. Koverdan brings up an excellent point that Alaska Airlines receives a government subsidy for providing the milk run services along with other local airline companies participating in that program. Was this reporter doing a promo for Alaska Airlines summer tourism, because if not for that subsidy, none of those airline companies would volunteer to serve those smaller communities! Good point not to skip over.
56d ago • Reply
Richard So very correct if it weren't for WE the American tax payers these little out of the way communities wouldn't ever even see an airplane let alone actually have an airplane land and pickup people and freight
KRISTIAN ERICKSON I am an Alaskan, and I fly our namesake carrier's "milk runs" regularly. The name, however, doesn't refer to airplanes carrying milk; but it originates in 19th century railroading. The express trains were fast with few stops, but the local trains stopped at every dairy farm to pick up and drop off milk cans, which were destined for the creamery in the big city. Hence the term milk run was born, and today it refers to any mode of transport with frequent stops.
55d ago • Reply
Kristian Halvor Erickson I am not an Alaska Airlines employee, just a knowledgeable Alaskan. The federal government doesn't subsidize Alaska Airlines rural flights. In many communities Alaska Airlines owns its own terminal buildings. On May 17th the company announced a 60 million dollar improvement program to its company- owned infrastructure. The service to rural Alaska is handsomely profitable for Alaska Airlines. Because there are no roads beyond the small towns, there is no possibility of buses or trucks competing with Alaska Airlines.
55d ago • Reply
Dan This is not necessarily on topic. I have flown on Alaska Airlines to Red Dog Mine on a number of Occasions. The flights there are not commercially available as the airline provides the flight by contract to supply provisions and workers on weekly flights. The pilots have to negotiate bad weather and rough terrain. These guys are bad ass pilots!!! Most are bush pilots plucked Alaska airlines because they have brass balls. Female pilots too!!!
54d ago • Reply
54d ago • Reply

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