What’s your final destination? The answer will determine which of Anchorage’s 3 airports you’re departing from.

McMurren travel column

How do you get from your home to the airport in Anchorage?

Well, first, you need to determine which airport. That’s a common question in big cities. Down in Seattle, they just added Everett as a new airport (Paine Field). That’s in addition to Boeing Field and Sea-Tac. Don’t forget Lake Union, though. It’s Seattle’s own downtown floatplane base with flights to the San Juan Islands, in addition to Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.

Here in Anchorage, we have our own downtown airport, Merrill Field. It’s owned by the Municipality of Anchorage and was first constructed in 1930.

Many travelers in Anchorage think all commercial flights arrive and depart at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. That’s true if you’re flying on an Alaska Airlines jet. But travelers may not know there are at least three venues outside the main terminals (north and south) where passengers can catch a flight.

Most commercial flights to Anchorage moved from Merrill Field to Anchorage International in the 1960s. Today, the downtown airport stays very busy with the private pilots, flight schools and repair stations that call Merrill Field home.

But some operators at Merrill Field offer the only service to select communities in the state.

Merrill Field

Josie Owen is a customer service representative for Alaska Air Transit, which offers scheduled service to two communities in Prince William Sound: Tatitlek and Chenega Bay. “We have three Pilatus PC-12s and two Cessna 208 Grand Caravans,” she said. “Also, we’ve applied to offer scheduled service to McGrath twice each week. We also fly to Nikolai, to Takotna — and even to Dutch Harbor on a charter basis.”

Lyon Johnson is an education specialist who regularly travels to rural and remote schools, including Tatitlek and Chenega Bay. “I feel safest with them (Alaska Air Transit),” he said. “I totally trust that they’re going to make the right call.”

If you’re headed to Port Alsworth on the shores of Lake Clark, there are two carriers that offer service from Merrill Field: Lake Clark Air and Lake and Pen Air.

“We fly from Anchorage to Port Alsworth, as well as to the communities around Lake Iliamna,” said Breanna Wilder, reached at the Lake and Pen Air office in Port Alsworth. “We have three of the Cessna 208s, a Cessna 206 and a Beechcraft Bonanza,” she said. “Plus, we’ll charter anywhere.”

Even if an air carrier doesn’t have an office or hangar at Merrill Field, they can arrange for a drop-off. I had to pick up some folks traveling on Kantishna Air Taxi, flying from deep in Denali National Park. The plane landed at the Spernak Airways hangar. After saying goodbye, the pilot gassed up and returned to Kantishna.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport has a huge footprint at the western edge of the city — much larger than just the main passenger terminal. In addition to the sprawling air freight hubs operated by UPS and FedEx, there’s the Lake Hood floatplane base. Lake Hood, which averages 190 flights each day in a normal year, is the world’s busiest floatplane base.

fog, foggy, Lake Hood, Lake Hood Float Plane Base, lake hood flo

The largest operator at Lake Hood is Rust’s Flying Service, with 12 aircraft. Most of their planes are set up on floats and travelers load up right on the dock outside of Rust’s offices. But there are several wheel planes as well for bear viewing and sightseeing. Even though Lake Hood is a floatplane base, there’s a gravel strip nearby — or a pilot may taxi over to depart from one of the airport’s main runways.

In addition to its flightseeing tours and bear viewing adventures, Rust’s works with lodges all around Southcentral Alaska delivering supplies and guests.

Right across from Rust’s headquarters is the Alaska Aviation Museum. This is a must-see museum if you are interested in Alaska’s flying history. Three are restored planes, historic displays and plenty of wartime memorabilia. Two of my favorite planes on display include the 1928 Stearman bi-plane and the 1931 “Pilgrim.” The Pilgrim was completely restored, including the Alaska Airlines logo! Don’t miss it. The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday.

Another long-time carrier with its headquarters at Lake Hood is Katmai Air. Although the company hangar is right on the water, passengers traveling to King Salmon, Dillingham or to one of Bristol Adventure’s lodges board the aircraft at a separate location, at “South Air Park.”

To access South Air Park, travelers have to go all the way around the airport, like they’re headed to Kincaid Park. Access is off of Raspberry Road.

Katmai Air has a pair of the Pilatus PC-12 planes here in Anchorage. The rest of the fleet is based in the Katmai National Park region to shuttle guests around several lodges: Kulik Lodge, Grosvenor Lodge, Brooks Lodge and Mission Lodge outside of Dillingham.

One of the other air carriers that operates out of the South Air Park area is Reeve Air Alaska. At the helm is Mike Reeve, a third-generation Alaska aviator. Reeve’s three-plane fleet (two KingAirs and a Piper Navajo) is different from his airline operated by his father and grandfather, Reeve Aleutian Airways.

But Reeve knows his way around Alaska’s skies and offers scheduled service from Anchorage up to Gulkana/Glennallen. Reeve also offers charter flights into McCarthy Airport, as well to locations along the Alaska Peninsula all the way to Dutch Harbor.

There are a couple of other operators at South Air Park, including Security Aviation and Iliamna Air Taxi.

Additionally, there’s one more large operator, but it’s on the other side or the taxiway. Ryan Air is located on Carl Brady Drive. You have to take a different turn off of Raspberry Road to get there. Ryan Air has a large fleet of freighters, but it’s started offering twice-a-week passenger flights with its PC-12 Pilatus aircraft. On Mondays and Thursdays, Ryan offers flights from Anchorage to both Aniak and Unalakleet. These are routes previously served by Ravn Alaska.

There are several other air carriers that operate primarily charter operations at Merrill Field, Lake Hood and South Air Park.

It’s no question that Anchorage is a big passenger aviation hub for Alaska. So big, in fact, that it takes three airports to handle it.

[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and For more information, visit