I’m dredging up some old files, but the pending disappearance of Alaska Airlines combi flights motivated me to right about a last minute trip I took in March. My wife was leaving on a business trip, and I had some time off school. Cheap award flights on Alaska Airlines at the last minute sounded like a good opportunity to finally visit Alaska for the first time. And what better way than on this unique aircraft?
The combi is a dual-purpose Boeing 737-400 in which the front half is totally dedicated to freight while the back half is for passengers. This means there is no first class, no premium economy, and everyone boards from the rear. The front of the cabin is simply a large bulkhead at the exit row — disconcerting for anyone who’s used to seeing the cockpit door or at the very least a privacy curtain between cabins.
I booked a couple of tickets to get me to and from my ultimate destination of Anchorage. On the way there, I used Avios to book a one-way award from Seattle to Juneau for just 7,500 points thanks to their distance-based award chart. I planned to spend the day hiking up to the Mendenhall Glacier (which is not far from the airport).
I then used 7,500 Alaska miles to book a second ticket from Juneau to Anchorage. This was intended to be a non-stop flight on a regular 737, but upon arriving at Juneau I saw white snow everywhere I looked. There would be no hiking today.
Instead, I made a pit stop in the airport and took a phone call before rebooking myself to continue on the same flight that brought me in. The combi is often used for the “Milk Run,” which makes two or three stops at small towns between larger airports (look for it by scanning the search results for flights that have multiple stops).
Alaska has many small towns for whom Alaska Airlines is one of the only connections to the outside world, and the milk run can vary depending on your origin and destination. It’s very similar to the “Island Hopper” flight operated by United Airlines. Because of the short turn times, I was never allowed off the plane, but the flight attendant did let me get up to look out the door.
Finally we reached Anchorage. I had no specific plans, and in fact there didn’t seem to be a lot to do in the winter. I really wasn’t expecting so much snow this far into March. (There was lots of evidence that it’s a bustling hub for outdoors excursions during the summer.) But it was sunny and I spent the next day going to a museum before heading back to the airport.
I’d booked a first class ticket for that and got to spend a couple hours at the Alaska Lounge checking out the largest variety of Boeing 747 cargo freighters I’d ever seen, with aircraft constantly arriving and departing for destinations in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
For those planning to travel on the combi, Alaska will be retiring the last of the fleet this month and converting them to freight-only aircraft. A short weekend jaunt could be your only opportunity. Unfortunately there’s not a lot to do on the aircraft while you’re traveling besides look out at some of the amazing scenery. I mentioned that there’s no first class, and the cabin can become quite empty between smaller towns.
But if you’re an avgeek, it’s definitely a nice experience to check off the list. Hopefully the next time I go to Juneau it won’t be so cold!