In Part One, we took a look at multi-stop flights from an international perspective; this time we'll focus on US domestic operations. Again, in the days before major hubs, flight routings were often more complex than they are today. In fact, and helping to illustrate the concept of a "milk run" is the routing of Delta Flight 624, as shown in the North American Timetable Edition of the OAG for July 1967. Delta, of course, is thought to be one of the first, and likely the originator, of the concept of an omnidirectional "hub," at its home airport in Atlanta. Operated by a piston-engined Douglas DC-6, this flight originated at ATL, and headed east to Augusta, Georgia, and then to Columbia and Charleston, both located in South Carolina.
Since none of the outstations were far from each other, there likely was little traffic between these points (and even less as the rapidly-developing interstate highway system connected these cities). The purpose of this flight was largely to distribute passengers to AGS, CAE and CHS that had arrived at ATL from the many points on Delta's route system, as well as local traffic between the Georgia capital and the smaller cities.
Why a "milk run"? This goes back to railroad terminology, where major urban areas, particularly in the populous northeast, were provided with dairy products via trains that stopped at a number of smaller points before proceeding to their destination markets. Passengers were sometimes carried, particularly to and from the smaller points, although those traveling from the farthest points likely were not fond of the many intermediate stops.
In addition to feeding hubs and other major connecting points, US domestic route systems prior to Airline Deregulation in 1978 were generally linear in nature, reflecting the early history of the carriers, when most had been confined to particular geographic areas, as well as the relatively short range capabilities of early aircraft. As aircraft range improved, nonstops were installed in major markets, an early example being Chicago-New York, in the DC-3 era.
Traffic on the linear route systems continued to be serviced in the traditional way, however, often resembling the routings of parallel railroad systems. American, for example, had a route originating in New England that ended up in Tennessee (where it intersected and connected with AA's original transcontinental route), via upstate New York, points in Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky. A variation was routed via Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis.
Illustrating these in 1967 are a pair of flights operated by Lockheed Electra turboprops: Flight 741 from Syracuse to Memphis via Rochester, Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati and Nashville, while Flight 705 originated in Boston and paused in Syracuse, Rochester, Detroit and Chicago before reaching St. Louis.
For that matter, not all of Delta's services were focused primarily on feeding Atlanta, although they often combined the two missions. DL 435, a Convair 440, operated Detroit-Toledo-Ft. Wayne-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Lexington (Kentucky)-Atlanta. Coming from the west, Flight 435, utilizing the same equipment type originated in Memphis and proceeded to Shreveport, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Birmingham and Atlanta, before terminating in Columbia, SC.
Of course, the real champions in the multi-stop game were the "Local Service" carriers licensed in the late 1940s. Since their raison d'etre was to serve smaller cities, they often needed to combine many points to obtain sufficient traffic, even with their original equipment, which consisted primarily of DC-3s. These carried 21 passengers originally, although the Local Service carriers converted many to 28-seat capacity.
Southern Airways, for example, operated between Memphis and the Tri-Cities airport (serving Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport) via three other points, all in Tennessee: Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville. I traveled this route in 1968, when it had been upgraded to jet (DC-9) service; through passengers were practically able to recite the safety briefing along with the flight attendants by the fourth segment.
Piedmont Flight 610, operated with a Martin 404, proceeded from Cincinnati to New York (where American and TWA competed for the nonstop market) via Charleston, Beckley and Bluefield, in West Virginia, followed by Pulaski, Roanoke, Hot Springs, the Shenandoah Valley Airport and Charlottesville, in Virginia. The carrier's initial jet service, with Boeing 727s (leased before the arrival of the 737s on order) included Flight 24 between ATL and LGA, via Asheville, NC; Tri-Cities, TN/VA; and Roanoke and Lynchburg, both in Virginia.
And finally, justifying the use of the 'more than 9 stops' character was Frontier's Flight 526, as of January 1968. This Convair 580 turboprop originated in Little Rock, Arkansas at 12:10 PM, proceeding, in order, to Hot Springs and Fort Smith (AR); Tulsa, Oklahoma City (OK); Liberal, Kansas: Colorado Springs and Denver; Cheyenne and Casper in Wyoming; Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and Great Falls, all in Montana, prior to finishing the day at Billings, arriving at 10:28 PM. Fourteen cities (one of which was served twice) in six states.
Did anyone ever ride it the entire way in a single trip (to Great Falls, or at least to the first visit to Billings)? I have my doubts, but there may have been a particularly dedicated airline buff out there....