Since the field for "number of stops" is a single character, the OAG's Pocket Flight Guide for North America provides the following explanation for its column 8: "The number of stops. A dash indicates the flight is non stop. For rail service, a"#" indicates there are more than nine stops."
Years ago, rail service was typically not included in the OAG, and this symbology was applied to airline flights, as well. What, you ask, could possibly have required a flight (particularly within North America) to have made more than nine stops enroute? Hard to believe now, but multi-stop flights were once plentiful, both in North America and elsewhere.
In today's world, with the extensive use of hub-and-spoke scheduling, it is possible to make most journeys via a single connection at a hub, or at most, utilizing two hubs. In any case, the individual flight segments are typically nonstop, although occasionally two smaller markets are combined, sometimes on a "round-robin" basis, where each city is served only once on the rotation to/from the hub. This also occurs on a straightforward "out and back" routing, where the more distant point has an intermediate stop in both directions.
Since aircraft used to have much shorter ranges than today's equipment, longhaul international services were multi-stop by nature. Of course, round-the-world routings had many segments, but that is a story for another time. Even well into the jet era, a number of routings featured many stops, although there typically was little expectation of through traffic between the endpoints. However, this was not true in all cases. Both BOAC and Qantas served the UK-Australia market via what the latter referred to as the "Kangaroo Route", via points in eastern Asia and the Middle East.
A typical routing for Qantas was Sydney-Singapore-Bangkok-Calcutta-Bahrain-Cairo-Rome-London; an alternate version went via Manila, Hong Kong, Delhi, Teheran and Athens. Intermediate point traffic was welcome, but a number of customers utilized the end-to-end service, and must have been glad when a bed and shower awaited at the final destination.
Europe-Asia service on these types of routings was termed the "Silk Route" by some carriers. SAS reached Tokyo from its home base in Copenhagen via Frankfurt, Zurich, Rome, Teheran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok and Manila. Swissair, flying a Convair 990 circa 1967 (on what possibly was the longest regular routing for the type), operated Zurich-Athens-Beirut-Bombay (today's Mumbai)-Bangkok-Hong Kong-Tokyo. Notice in both cases that, prior to the development of today's massive hubs at places like Frankfurt, and the present alliance system, carriers frequently served multiple points within their geographic home areas in order to attain a critical mass of traffic that would enable breakeven--and hopefully profitable--operations.
Illustrating this point on a smaller scale in 1967 was Saudi Arabian Airlines. Prior to the large increase in oil prices in the 1970s, the airline's entire European operation consisted of a twice-weekly Jeddah-Beirut-Geneva-Frankfurt-London schedule operated by Boeing 720Bs, a smaller version of the then-ubiquitous 707-320B/C "Intercontinental".
BOAC (and later, British Airways) also served London-Sydney via the US. This route, operated with Super VC-10s in the early 1970s, departed London Heathrow for JFK in New York, then stopped at Los Angeles, Honolulu, Nandi (Fiji) and Sydney before arriving in Melbourne. Apparently crews on this service made one round-trip per month and arrived back home about two weeks after departing. (And in the winter, they had little use for a wool uniform after departing from JFK.)
Another set of routes involving long distances was the set of connections between the US and South America. Long-time participant Braniff, which had acquired competitor Panagra by early 1967, along with the long-range DC-8-62s that the latter had ordered, dispatched their flight 979 from JFK late in the evening, on a variety of routings. Until the carrier obtained its own authority to New York, aircraft were operated on an "interchange" basis with either Eastern (former Braniff services) or National (former Panagra) between JFK and Miami. South of MIA, a typical 1967 routing for BN 979 proceeded to Panama City, Quito, Guayaquil, Lima and La Paz before terminating in Buenos Aires. Braniff eventually operated nonstop JFK-BUE service (in competition with Pan Am), but flight 979 continued to service multiple points on the west coast of South America.
As yet, none of the services described have merited the "more than 9 stops" designator, however. We'll take a look at an example of this in the column's next installment, when we discuss a much more geographically -constrained market: The continental US (To be continued).