Perks of Flying Military Part 1: Free Checked Bags


Perhaps all of you know that when travelling on orders, either domestically or internationally on any US-based carrier, your bags are automatically checked for free. What you might not have known is that you get free checked bags on ANY OTHER type of travel as well, if you are active duty. With some airlines it is a lower number of bags than when on orders travel, but every major domestic carrier allows some free checked bags. (this is, of course, excepting “discount” carriers like Spirit Air, which aren’t truly discount after all the nickel-and-diming they do. Seriously, they are the WORST airline I have ever experienced, in every capacity. If you want details, please message me). Below I’ve assembled a table with the major US carriers. The free checked bags perk includes both domestic and international travel when booked with the respective carriers.


Airline Military Leisure Travel Military Orders
Alaska Airlines (link) -Up to 5 bags, 50lbs max, and $50 for each additional -Same
American Airlines (link) -Up to 3 bags for free, 50lbs max, then normal charges apply. Note that this does NOT extend to dependents, so check all bags under your name. -Up to 5 bags for free, with one bag up to 100lbs, and the rest up to 50lbs. Dependents on orders get 2 bags up to 50lbs free
Delta Airlines (link) -Up to 2 bags for free, 50lbs max, then normal charges apply. NOT extended to dependents -Up to 4 bags for free (5 if flying business or first), 70lbs max.
Southwest Airlines (link) -Up to 2 bags for free, 50lbs max, then normal charges. Note that EVERYONE gets this on SW. -No apparent limit for free, and bags can be oversized and overweight.
United Airlines (link) -Up to 3 bags for free, 70lbs max, for military member and dependents together. -Up to 4 bags for free, 70lbs max, in economy, or 5 bags if travelling in business or first.
US Airways (link) -Up to 2 bags for free, 50lbs max. NOT extended to dependents. (They will be reverting to AA rules sometime in October) -Up to 4 bags for free, 100lbs max EACH.


This is an amazing option that not many active duty people know about. Obviously on carriers that don’t allow dependents to check free bags, the bags should all be checked under the servicemembers name.


Also keep in mind that some of the front desk staff do not know their military baggage policies. Please be polite if they do not know, and kindly ask to see a supervisor if they persist in attempting to collect baggage fees. Note that there is usually no option when booking online to designate yourself a military member. Just say that you are not checking bags, and check them when you get to the airport, and schedule some extra time accordingly.


To my knowledge there are no free baggage perks for reservists or veterans. If anyone knows otherwise, please post below.

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If you have flown United in the last month, you have seen the opening video thanking veterans and demonstrating how many work for United.  If you haven’t seen it, go to this YouTube site first and then come back here.  I have to say that I personally think it is pretty cool for them to recognize the veterans amongst their ranks.  Personally, I actually met a C-130 pilot in Qatar who was a USAF Reservist who normally worked for United as a 757 pilot.  I thought that was pretty cool and certainly felt safe in his hands on the way to Iraq.

On a related note, United has pledged to support its Reserve Component members as shown in this ceremony last November.

United Reservists

Flanked by veterans and members of the uniformed services, United Airlines Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek today signed a Statement of Support affirming the company’s commitment to the National Guard and Reserves. More than 150 United employees, many of whom are veterans or currently serve in a Guard or Reserve unit, were on hand for the signing ceremony at the airline’s headquarters in Chicago.

Flanked by veterans and members of the uniformed services, United Airlines Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek today signed a Statement of Support affirming the company's commitment to the National Guard and Reserves.

“At United, we are honored to have thousands of brave men and women throughout our company who served or are currently serving in the military,” said Smisek. “We take great pride in the training and professionalism they bring to the job every day and are forever grateful for their contributions to our nation.”

By signing the Statement of Support, United pledged to:

  • Appreciate the values, leadership and unique skills service members bring to the workforce while encouraging opportunities to hire Guardsmen, Reservists and veterans.
  • Fully recognize, honor and enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act.
  • Provide managers and supervisors the tools they need to effectively manage employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.
  • Continually recognize and support our country’s service members and their families in peace, crises and war.

“Today, supportive employers are critical to maintaining the strength and readiness of the nation’s Guard and Reserve units,” said Tom Bullock, chief of employer outreach for the U.S. Department of Defense’s office of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). “United is setting a high standard for all employers to follow by providing above and beyond support of veterans, Guardsmen and Reservists.”

So what do you think of their campaign?  Self-serving or a true recognition of the superior service brought to their corporation by Reservists and veterans?

I should note that United is the only airline which offers vets a 5% discount on airfare through Veterans Advantage.

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Sorry, gang, but due to a family emergency, we won’t both be able to be at our first Military Frequent Flyer Blog Meet-up.  Thus, we will delay the event for two weeks so you don’t have to settle for half the pleasure of meeting our team.  Believe me, the average intelligence (and good looks) of the team will be greatly increased by waiting for Andy to be there.  We are re-scheduling the event for Thursday, 6 Aug. at Sine’s in Pentagon Row.  All of our readers, whether military or not, are welcome to attend.  Apologies on the delay, but we hope you understand and hope to see you there.

I will also take this opportunity to note that our featured period on is 27 Jul – 9 Aug.  Look for lots of content coming up, hopefully every day during this period!  Again, if you have something that you would like us to research and discuss, shoot up a note or make a post reply and we tee it up for those upcoming two weeks.


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Hope all of you who can make it will come out.  Andy and I look forward to meeting you all and hearing your own travel stories and military adventures.  We will also be happy to answer your questions or give you specific advice on any miles and points questions that you may have.  Hope you can make it next Thursday, 23 JUL at 1800.

The party will be a Sine’s Irish Pub at Pentagon Row.  Walking distance from the Pentagon and lots of folks come over in their uniforms so don’t worry about changing if you are just getting off work.  We’ll be there wearing our polo shirts so you can pick us out of the crowd in the back bar.  Here is a map and the pub’s website is

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I am sure that I could write a blog just about Anchorage and Alaska if I was there all the time.  I thought that I would wrap up my trip report with some last interesting things to see if you make it there.

Point Woronzof is at the end of the Coastal Trail that I mentioned in my running post.  It forms the point between the Knik Arm, where Anchorage’s port is, and the Turnagain Arm, which we travelled along to get to Whittier, of the Cook Inlet.  If you don’t want to run out there, you can simply drive along Northern Lights Blvd. which bisect mid-town Anchorage to the very end of the drive.  Not only is this a great place to sightsee and watch the sunset at 11:30 PM, but it is also the end of one of the ANC runways and a perfect spot for AvGeeks to see the planes take off and land.

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And this sign proves what a weird sense of humor most Alaskans have.  I love it!

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Here is a tourist attraction about two blocks from my house.  An underground house!  Notice the driveway, a couple of skylights, and the stairs down.  Unlike all the other houses in the neighborhood, this family decided to build a giant basement and live there.  I this not as weird as it sounds as the house has a creek running through the backyard and the house actually has an open wall facing that.  OK, I take that back, it is as weird as it sounds.

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Speaking of weird, I will tell you a little Alaskan joke.  Due to so many men coming up to work in Alaska, but leaving their families in the Lower 48, the ration of men to women is like 6:1.  Sounds great for that gal looking for a husband, but the saying goes that “the odds are good, but the goods are odd!”

Anchorage makes maximum use of the summer and most of that fun happens on the Park Strip.  At what originally was the edge of town, a park runs between 9th and 10th Avenues almost the entire length of downtown and any given weekend there is something likely happening there, so check it if you are in town.  The annual 4th of July festivities unfortunately happened on the only rainy day we had.  Didn’t stop some re-enactor friends of mine from showing up in costume for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

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Here is proof that moose do actually wander into my yard.  My house backs a creeks, so they have their own safe path to wander Anchorage and eat our gardens.  Just remember, never mess with a mama moose!

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Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few pics of the Matanuska Glacier, which is the closest one to Anchorage.  Easy to visit, or if you go to Seward, turn off and visit the Exit Glacier just before entering town.

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Continuing on from yesterday’s post.  Remember how I discussed Portage as a community that sank beneath the waves during the 1964 earthquake?  Well so did Girdwood about 9 miles west.  Except Girdwood moved inland and rebuilt.  Today Girdwood Valley is a thriving community known for its world class ski resort and artist community.  Ok, it really is known as the hippie community of Alaska.  Located just 23 miles south of Anchorage, there are people that love the life there and commute in to Anchorage to work regardless of the weather.  I have a term for those people – “Crazy”.   I have driven this road in a snowstorm with the sea on one side and a mountain on the other and it was nerve-wracking to say the least.  I can’t imagine doing it all the time.

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Nonetheless, Girdwood itself is a beautiful place.  We happened to visit on Forest Festival Weekend which is a giant arts and crafts show that is very popular.  My daughter and her friends always made a point of going to this when she was in High School.  For me it is just way too crowded to enjoy.

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Here is a shot of the famous Alyeska Ski Resort.  Alyeska is the actual native word for Alaska and, as usual, white men changed it to something they could pronounce.  The ski slope is quite imposing when you look at it without snow on it and I can’t help but think “who would go down that”!  One great activity you can do year round is take the tram to the top of the mountain and have a great meal with the most spectacular view.

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The drive back along the Seward  Highway is spectacular.  We were lucky this trip to see the tidal bore roll in.  You can’t make it out on the pictures I took, but it is quite a site if you get to see it.

Here is a picture of one of the nearby rivers.  I love how the color is so bright they seem to glow.  This is a result of the high mineral content of the water since these are fairly young mountains and still shedding a lot of material.  Saw more than a few kayakers enjoying the water.

Whittier 009




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While Anchorage is a great town, there are great things to see outside of it too.  A fantastic day trip can be had by visiting Whittier, a very unique town about 45 minutes south.  First, I have to give a little history lesson.  When WW II broke out, America was very worried that Alaska offered an easy route for the Japanese to invade the North American continent and then work their way south.  As a result of a massive campaign, the U.S. built the first road to Alaska (the Al-Can hwy.), but the also needed an all-weather port to get supplies into the territory.  Anchorage was the main city, but its port was too shallow for heavy draft and iced over in the winter.  Surveyors as far back as 1914 had identified a possible solution – build a port on the east side of the Chugach mountain range and then tunnel through the range to reach Anchorage.  Thus, the town of Whittier was born in 1941.  Its deep water port never froze over and a tunnel was drilled for over 4 kilometers through the rock to reach the other side of the mountain range.  Drilling the tunnel was so hard, they only made it big enough for a single train, so no auto traffic.  Therefore, there was only train traffic into the town until 200 when they paved the tunnel and made it usable by vehicles as well as the train.  This really opened up Whittier as a prime tourism spot.


But, I am getting ahead of myself.  To start your trip, take the Seward Hwy. south from Anchorage.  We have only one highway going south so this should be fairly easy to find.  First, you will pass through Potter’s Marsh which is a great site to visit if you want to go out on a boardwalk and learn the ecology of the area as well as observe a lot of birds.  Continuing on for about 45 minutes, you will wind along a beautiful highway with the sea on one side and soaring mountains on the other.  Your destination is the old town of Portage.  Portage used to be a town along the highway, but sunk beneath the high water mark during the 1964 earthquake.  On its site, is our first stop the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  This pay-to-enter private facility is a home for rescued animals of all types.  It is a fantastic place for you to  see Alaskan wildlife up close and personal such as bears, caribou, and moose.

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From there leave the Seward Highway and travel east.  After passing a number of campgrounds, you will reach the Portage Glacier Visitors Center.  This facility, built on Portage Lake, is dedicated to education and research of glaciers.  One of the jokes in Alaska is that his center was built in the ’90s right in front of Portage Glacier, but by the time they finished it, the glacier had retreated out of sight.  No worries as you can take an hour long boat tour to visit the glacier up close and even sample the ice.

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Right around the corner from Portage Lake is the Whittier Tunnel.  It is a $12 fee for a car to pass and you need to get there ahead of the release time for passing into Whittier which occurs at the bottom of each hour.  Everyone stages according to type of vehicle and then you are released to travel through over two miles of semi-solid rock.

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Emerging on the other side is the small port of Whittier.  For this trip, went drove up to an access road over the town that offered great views.

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Although we did not do it this day, I highly recommend the 26 Glacier Cruise if you want to spend the day around Prince William Sound and see whales, otters and big glaciers calving into the water.  You can get discounted tickets for this at the Elmendorf AFB Tours & Travel Office.

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A great little spot to eat is the Inn at Whittier.  One of the newer, more beautiful structures  in town.  It probably has the best view of the harbor and surroundings while you have a drink or get a meal.

There are other locales to eat at also, and we went to my wife’s favorite, the Swiftwater Café.  Lots of character in this place as the walls are covered with Alaskan items and news.  I had the halibut and she got clam chowder.  The seafood was so incredibly fresh!  My favorite is a corner which has articles on every shipwreck in Southeastern Alaska.  For most of its history, this was the only way to reach Alaska and most of the wrecks leave you scratching your head on how did they get so far out of water.  Don’t forget that 23 foot tide I mentioned in yesterday’s post!

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Whittier is also a stop in the Marine Highway System.  This is the ferry system that connect most of the southern part of Alaska and even reaches Prince Rupert, Canada.  This is a great way to travel with your car and my wife and I took the ferry from Prince Rupert to Haines in 2006.  The ferry is like a very basic cruise line and typically even has a U.S. Park Ranger aboard to explain the flora and fauna.

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I mentioned how Whittier could only be reached by train until 2000 and it still can be today.  The Alaska Railroad runs a short train from Anchorage to here for a little over $100 each.  If you are not renting a car, this is a great way to see Whittier and parts in between in the observation car.

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This is getting pretty long, let me break it here and continue tomorrow.

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One of the great things about Anchorage is that even though it’s population is approaching 400,000, it is still a small town in many aspects.  One of these is that the populace still stays very close to nature.  Heck, moose wandering in my yard for a snack is pretty common.  One thing that the city has to keep nature close by is over 17 miles of trails that cross the city and travel above or below streets and railways so you can ski, bike or jog as long as you desire.  Sings will show you where to go once you get close.

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The most famous of these trails is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (the mayor named it after himself!) which runs all along the perimeter of the city.  It starts at downtown and runs all the way to the airport.  It is my favorite place to run and after looking at some of these pictures, you’ll see why.  I have a nice little 5 mile run that I do from my house to the Lagoon, up to Earthquake Park and then back.  Most of Anchorage sits on a bluff so there is a pretty good slope going down to the trail and one on the way back, but other than that it is nice and flat.

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This first shot is of the Lagoon where salmon still run and they ice skate when it freezes over in the winter.

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This culvert leads under the Alaska Railroad tracks and others go under or over major roads so you can run without stopping or worry about your kids getting run over on the way to school.

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This is the scene just a half mile from my house.  You would think that you’re a hundred miles away in the wilderness.

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Remember in yesterday’s post where I talked about the scale Sun and how all the planets were spaced out at scale intervals?  Here I am passing by Jupiter.  The trail also has other educational signs to explain what you are seeing.  Really great if you bring your kids along on a stroll.

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There are a few places where rich folks managed to buy the land close to the Coastal Trail and erect a mansion.  Sorry to see these.  If I had the money I would buy one, live in it for 40 years, then tear it down and return it to the nature that it once was.

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See the view across the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet and notice the cliffs of Knik?  This is where they wanted to build a bridge in order to expand the city to the other side.  With a 23 foot tide and ice flows during the winter, it will be quite an engineering feat if they can ever get it done.

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Those cliffs you saw on the opposite side used to also be on the Anchorage side, until the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 caused a large portion to collapse into the Knik Arm.  In this area I am running in, a subdivision collapsed killing four and destroying dozens of homes.  They left the area alone and named it Earthquake Park.  It has a neat interactive tour that they just put in to illustrate the damage as you walk through the forest.

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So a great day for a run.  Down in Seward they have an event called the Mountain Marathon.  Not what you think of when you say the world marathon.   Instead (based upon a bar bet about 100 years ago), racers climb from sea level to the top of a 3000 foot mountain and back.  The winning time this year was 41:17 by a Spaniard and the lady’s record was broken by a Swedish gal.  I guess Alaska is getting pretty famous whne people come from all over the world to race here.  I am not sure that I would be able to do that anymore.  I’ll just settle for 45 minutes through the woods!

Lastly, I am going to leave you with an image of Alaska superimposed over the Continental United States to show you how big it really is.  If you put one end of Alaska at Ft. Lauderdale, FL, the other end would be in Santa Barbara, CA!

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There is nothing finer than a sunny, summer day in Anchorage.  72 degrees and blue skies meant it was time to get out and enjoy the day.  Of course, sunrise was at 0330 so that helped get me out of bed early.  Pro Tip: Bring an airline sleeping mask with you when you come visit, otherwise you are going to find your body wanting to go all day long and never sleep.

Downtown is only about a mile from my house so a quick ride.  The wife and I parked on 4th Avenue.  4th Avenue is the edge of downtown since 1-3rd kind of fell away in the 1964 earthquake!  The Anchorage Visitor’s Center is on 4th Avenue and a good place to start your tour.

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Right next to the Visitor’s Center is the tiny downtown park where you can occasionally catch a performance.  Also, surrounding the park and across the street in front of the old Federal Building are an Anchorage staple – hot dog stands.  Alaska cannot have any old hot dog stand, of course, we have reindeer sausage stands.  Sure, you can also get an excellent Polish or Brat, but if you are in Alaska, be adventurous.  Try one and tell me they are not excellent –  I dare you … And tell little kids that you ate Rudolph!

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Note that across from the park is the Anchorage Hilton.  Not a bad place to stay with a great view of all of Anchorage.  They will loan you a fishing pole if you want to walk down to Ship Creek and try your hand at catching  some salmon!

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Walking from the Visitor’s Center to 5th Avenue, you will find another park, this time in front of the Performing Arts Center.  Note that we plant cabbages in with our flowers just to see how large they grow.  The record is nearly 100 lbs!

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At 6th and G St. you will see a neat little science experiment.  They have the sun at the scale of the earth equaling one inch.  Then as you travel west downtown and eventually along the Coastal Trail, they have each planet at its scale distance from the sun.  More on that on tomorrow’s post.

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Keep walking to 6th Avenue and you will see an iconic watering hole in Anchorage – Humpy’s!  Side note, I ran into a Humpy’s in Kona and thought they were a rip-off of the original.  Only to find out they are related.  In Hawaii, instead of Humpy meaning a spawning pink salmon, they say humpy means a humpback whale.

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Humpy’s is a bar turned restaurant, for the record, I always go there to eat and a drink is occasionally involved.  Our favorite there is the Health Nut Halibut which you can get either charbroiled or blackened.  With a scoop of rice, teriyaki sauce and a small salad, it is a great meal.  Humpy’s also is famous for having over 100 beers on tap.  There is a challenge to get through them all.  That’s a merit badge that I have yet to earn.

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They also have their own gift shop where the old coat check used to be.  Get one and see if someone doesn’t stop you when you are wearing it around the Lower 48.  Humpy’s is also one of the only places I know who proudly display their military discount of 10% off!

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Lastly for today, we went down to Ship Creek to see if there were any salmon running.  Go down the bluff that the town is built on and find 1st Avenue,  Take a right and go about half a mile to a dirt parking lot on your left.  Park there and you will be right next to Ship Creek and the Weir.  You can walk out on the Weir which is a little dam that opens only at certain times to let the salmon swim upstream.  As a consequences, the salmon gather in front of the Weir and you can have a great chance to see them up close.

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Notice how dry the river is.  I have never seen it this low, but I expect that is a direct result of our record low snowfall of 25 inches this year.  Today we just saw two Silvers.  Timing is everything.




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As some of you know from past posts, I still have a home in Anchorage from my years there.  We visit it as often as we can.  Since my wife doesn’t work, this means she gets the whole summer up here, but for me it means only a week away from work to go have a real vacation.

For this trip, I took United – rather than Alaska – in order to use a $125 voucher I had and the 5% discount through Veterans Advantage.  UA was already slightly cheaper than AS, but this drove my cost down from $663 to $537.  Creative routing got me 9,341 EQM for going DCA-IAH-SFO-ANC-IAH-BWI.  This creativeness also increased my chances for an upgrade since flying between non-hub cities means less other elite flyers to compete with.  This proved a good strategy since I was upgraded two of three legs on the way there.  Flying into ANC is always a treat with interesting terrain to view and one of the best mid-sized airports in the nation.  And what other airport greats you with a moose!

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Arriving home at 2300 hrs., here is a picture of my house.  Yes, it is that light at 2300.  In fact, the sun would not set for another 30 minutes!

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Anchorage is having their 100th anniversary as a city this year.  Not a ton of special stuff taking place, but it was still cool to celebrate.  Not too many cities of 700,000 are only 100 years old.  They have a pretty good site with a few great photos of what it was like for the early pioneers.  Here is a link to check out.






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On my way to ANC for a week of vacation.  I was flying DCA-IAH-SFO-ANC in order to get about a 1,000 extra EQM.  As a UUA Gold, upgrade chances were iffy, but it happened on the first leg and then they pulled me from coach to take First Class from a couple who didn’t make the flight due to thunderstorms that day.  So two legs out of three was pretty good!

When I first received my boarding passes in DCA, an extra slip printed out warning me that at SFO I would be arriving in Terminal 3, but departing from the International Terminal.  Actually, what this meant was that I was arriving at one of the old United gates, but departing from the new wing that was built for Gates 60-69.  Being San Francisco, it just had to have a psychedelic art peice of spinning wheel patterns…

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Although they had the old UA Club in the old Terminal 3 location, I didn’t stop there as I wanted to find this new gate first.  It turned out to be quite a hike.  The new wing was very nice (like a real airport from this century), but I found no club and had a hard time believing that I would need to hike all the way back to the old one.

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Sure enough, I found it, but it was really well hidden.  It is on the main corridor between the old wing and the new walking in the direction of the International Terminal.  It reminded me of the difficulty in finding the USO club at SFO if you have ever been there.  Following the small signs, I eventually found the club and it was fairly nice.

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The usual bar and food area.  Thankfully, UA has moved to serving real food there and I enjoyed the Chicken Gumbo and hummus with real bread rolls.

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The club was decorated with a bunch of great photos of United’s heyday in San Francisco.  I took this one which proves that the 747 was not the first double decker passenger plane.  I’ll bet it was a noisy and dirty as a C-130, but it still would have been neat to fly.

I left to board my flight to ANC, but stopped to pick up a little something that is a family tradition with us – real sourdough bread!

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More on Anchorage, the rest of this week.

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