Do you like reindeer? Have you always wanted to fly with them? No, this has nothing to do with Santa Claus: Next month, Alaska Airlines will retire its last combi-planes, jets that carry both passengers and cargo to communities across the state. That cargo could include food, consumer goods, or live animals like dogs and reindeer.
Alaska Airlines combi-planes are a special 737-400 configuration for trips that don’t have a full load of passengers or a full load of cargo. The Associated Press explains that the planes can carry four standard cargo containers, with 72 passengers in the back.
Cargo planes are important in Alaska, where there isn’t much of a highway or railway network for distributing goods. Instead, items from the combi-planes or cargo jets gets loaded on smaller cargo planes and distributed to remote areas. Planes have even carried dogs that have just completed the Iditarod race back to the starting point so they can take a well-deserved nap.
Those passengers board the aircraft using the back door and stairs, not a jetway, and the wide variety of cargo meant in-flight problems that make a tuna sandwich eaten in flight seem pretty minor.
One traveler recounted a trip she took with a shipment of baby reindeer in the cargo hold. A horrible smell filled the passenger cabin after takeoff, and the crew apologized: The animals must have reacted in fear to how taking off in a jet feels, especially without a seat belt.
“Guess they all pooped as we lifted off from the runway,” she told the AP.
The planes have been an important part of Alaska life for a long time, but Alaska Airlines is retiring the last four planes on Oct. 18 along with the rest of its 737-400 fleet. Its next generation of planes will have separate passenger and cargo jets.