Iconic Alaskan Salmon Thirty Salmon takes its last flight
April 20, 2023
Early Monday morning, passengers in Seattle sat awaiting their flight to Ketchikan where their plane, a Boeing 737 with an enormous salmon painted on the side, would make its final run as Alaska's most well-known flight. The iconic Salmon Thirty Salmon was ready to board passengers for the final flight of its 18-year tenure serving as Alaska's famous flying fish.
Kaitlyn Lynch, a software engineer for Alaska Airlines showed up at the gate wearing a sweatshirt featuring a large salmon on it. The image was created by her and is similar to the design on the plane, which is known as a livery.
"I know many people who say this is their favorite livery," she said. "I know it's mine. I think it brings a lot of joy to people to see a giant fish plane in the sky."
Salmon Thirty Salmon, frequently known as Flight 65, is a cultural staple in Alaska. With a striking image of a 127-foot Alaskan King Salmon decorating the body of the Boeing 737, the plane is hard to miss. It was painted with support from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in conjunction with Alaska Airlines and was meant to promote the state's seafood industry far and wide. The plane got its name following a 1987 incident that resulted in a salmon hitting an airplane after being dropped by a passing eagle.
But salmon enthusiasts will no longer see the plane grace the skies after April 17. Salmon Thirty Salmon made its final flight on Monday, an occasion that the airline commemorated with a celebration at each stop.
The reason? It's getting repainted.
The plane's current design is over 10 years old. Liveries are typically made to last five to seven years, according to Tim Thompson, director of public relations and community marketing for Alaska Airlines. And because of this, he said that the plane is in need of a refresh.
The next image that the airline decides to use may reflect a shift in how the world views Alaska, and Thompson was excited about the possibilities.
"It will still honor our culture and our history," he said.
To commemorate this new milestone for Flight 65, Alaska Airlines held a kickoff ceremony Monday morning before takeoff for its last flight complete with balloons and a DJ playing music for an amused and confused audience.
Cathy Bolling, a caregiver from Prince of Wales Island, was one of the confused. "We don't even know what's going on with this flight. We're just going home," she said.
Once informed of the reason for the early-morning festivities, a smile broke over her face. Bolling said she was very familiar with its typical flight path, known as the milk run, and the plane's famous flying fish.
Other passengers, like Kris Norosz, knew about the plane's last flight and were eager to board.
"It's exciting," she said.
Alaska Airlines played up that excitement for some of the passengers that morning, hosting a quick game of trivia and even holding an impromptu 7 a.m. dance circle to the tune of "Cha Cha Slide." Those who participated were awarded a free flight voucher for one round-trip ticket to any Alaska Airlines destination of their choosing.
But those who did not participate were in for a surprise, too. When passengers boarded the plane at each stop, they were given free round-trip vouchers and a small collection of goodies including a pin, a hat and a T-shirt. Alaska Airlines worked with Trident Seafoods for the event, and much of the free "swag" was courtesy of Trident in celebration of their 50-year business anniversary. The plane's salmon design was created to promote companies like Trident to sell their seafood on a broader scale.
Norosz, who serves on the Alaska Airlines Community Advisory Board, said that she's seen the plane help expand the seafood industry's influence in and outside of Alaska.
"Seafood in Alaska is a very, very old industry that employs a lot of people, and I think that Alaskans have a lot of pride about salmon," she said. "It was a great promotional feature for the Alaska seafood industry."
Over the years, the plane has amassed fans, some of whom have come to associate Alaska with the salmon that is painted on it. And those fans are loyal to the salmon design - there was even a petition started to halt the repainting of the aircraft.
Thompson said the plane's art was the first of its kind and that its individuality helped spark interest in Alaska's seafood industry.
"It's one of those aircraft that people notice wherever they are," said Thompson.
Flight 65 has been in service with its famous salmon design since 2005. An updated design was unveiled in 2012, and this most recent version, named Salmon Thirty Salmon II, has flown over many skies since. The new design for the plane has been finalized but not released to the public yet.
During its time sporting a giant salmon, the plane was primarily used as part of Alaska's "milk run," which travels from Seattle to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau and Anchorage with supplies and passengers. But it has made many more flights across Alaska and beyond to show off its flashy fish design.
Monday's flight followed the traditional trajectory of the milk run with four stops before landing in Anchorage around 4 p.m. The stops were not to distribute milk but to pick up and drop off passengers in Southeast Alaska.
Today, Alaska Airlines has a milk run fleet that consists of a few different types of planes including cargo-only planes and passenger planes. Many Alaskans across Southeast rely on air travel to receive supplies and to leave and return to their communities due to the lack of connection to the road system in the region.
And Salmon Thirty Salmon plays a large role in that - and not only in delivering people and supplies where they need to go.
Terri Cook, a flight attendant with Alaska Airlines for over two decades, said the plane is a symbol of the airline and the people who fly on it.
"It represents Alaska Airlines to the T, especially our true Alaskans that fly on this all the time. They love this plane," she said.
And that love was evident at the Juneau stop of the flight, where the waiting passengers clapped loudly for the plane's last run, and even louder for the free ticket vouchers.