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Alaska Airlines’ Special Flight Routes: The Milk Run

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER on final Approach to SeaTac (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

Alaska — known for its rugged wilderness and mountainous terrain — has vast swaths of uninhabited land yet still largely disconnected from the rest of the state and country. However, underneath all of the jagged peaks and wooded forests lie many populated yet remote communities, many of which cities lie along the rocky Alaskan coastline, southeast of Anchorage.

But despite a lack of connection to the outside world, there is one feature of the commercial aviation industry that continues to make these communities viable on a daily basis. This comes in the form of a daily circuit of flights operated by Alaska Airlines, collectively termed “The Milk Run.”

The Milk Run consists of two flights originating in Anchorage, two flights originating in Seattle and one flight beginning its journey in Alaska’s third-largest city, Fairbanks. The flights complete their journey in either Anchorage or Seattle, making stops in different cities along the southeastern Alaskan coast. 

For years, each flight was operated the Boeing 737-400 combi, the name of which is a play on the fact that each aircraft’s cabin is divided in half by a wall to accommodate both passengers and cargo. The aircraft can carry a load of cargo in the front half while having 72 seats in the back. However, since Alaska retired the type in 2017, it has been operated by newer all-passenger 737s.

Unique In Purpose

The routes are similar to those operated by another U.S. airline. United Airlines has a special flight known as the Island Hopper, featuring a series of stops on islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and The Marshall Islands, located between Hawaii and Guam. However, Alaska Airlines’ special Milk Run flights give the airline the opportunity to operate a route in its network that both have a special purpose and highlight Alaska’s notable terrain from up in the air.

The term “milk run” gets its roots in the dairy industry practice of picking up mixed loads from different suppliers – when one tanker truck collects milk from several farmers for delivery to a central processor. In the aviation industry, the general term “milk run” refers to one scheduled, routine flight with several stops. Meanwhile, in terms of operations and logistics, “milk run” refers to a roundtrip journey. The trip both distributes and collects cargo and supplies.

The Seattle-based carrier has a different purpose for operating these flights, compared to the other carriers. For the remote communities along Alaska’s southeastern coast, Alaska Airlines delivers milk, vital supplies, mail and freight. 

While other airlines in the industry boast and showcase the achievement of having one of the longest flights, Alaska Airlines sees its Milk Run as creating a necessary connection between communities that might otherwise be prohibitively isolated, forming a connection that makes the outside world one step closer.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Dec. 7 to reflect Alaska Airlines’ retirement of the Boeing 737-400 combi in 2017.

Benjamin Pham


  • Benjamin Pham

    Benjamin has had a love for aviation since a young age, growing up in Tampa with a strong interest in airplane models and playing with them. When he moved to the Washington, D.C. area, Benjamin took part in aviation photography for a couple of years at Gravelly Point and Dulles Airport, before dedicating planespotting to only when he traveled to the other airports. He is an avid, world traveler, having been able to reach 32 countries, yearning to explore and understand more cultures soon. Currently, Benjamin is an Air Transporation Management student at Arizona State University. He hopes to enter the airline industry to improve the passenger experience and loyalty programs while keeping up to how technology is being integrated into airports.

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