Symbolic flight signifies end of an era

By David Little For The Cordova Times

Alaska Airlines’ customer service agent Kate Velasco and local station manager Deb Ethier visit with Brad Tilden, the airline’s chief executive officer, as they walk around the last combi jet. Photo by David Little/For The Cordova Times
Alaska Airlines’ customer service agent Kate Velasco and local station manager Deb Ethier visit with Brad Tilden, the airline’s chief executive officer, as they walk around the last combi jet. Photo by David Little/For The Cordova Times

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On Oct. 4, the last Alaska Airlines 737-400 combi jet into Cordova touched down at the Merle K. “Mudhole” Smith Airport as Alaska Airlines’ flight 66.

On board were Alaska Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer Brad Tilden, Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and a host of other Alaska Airline officials.

While in fact the airline’s combi aircraft will make a few more landings as they are phased out, this symbolic flight signified the end of an era.

The landing in Cordova was to commemorate the end of combi service to Alaska, as well as to give Tilden a look at the newly remodeled Alaska Airlines terminal in Cordova. After a brief visit, flight 66 continued its usual route, which begins in Anchorage and ends in Seattle, with stops in Cordova, Yakutat and Juneau.

For decades, the combination passenger/cargo planes known as “combis” have serviced the smaller towns of Alaska. Flights that otherwise did not have enough passengers or enough freight to justify an all-passenger plane could be sent in with a load of freight as well as room for 72 passengers. Changing with the times, Alaska Airlines now brings in all passenger planes, plus dedicated cargo planes to these Alaska locations.

David Little has worked as an agent for the Transportation Security Administration for over 15 years in numerous airports all over the United States, and specifically with TSA for Alaska Airlines flights for over a decade. He saw the last 737-200 fly out of Nome, and the first of the 737-400s to fly in there as well. An avid photographer, he has a fascination with flight that began from his first commercial intercontinental flight on Braniff Airways over 55 years ago.