Memories of Champagne Flight on Midstate Airlines in Wisconsin
Remembering the 6 PM Champagne Flight originating out of Chicago's O'Hare airport on Midstate Airlines when my husband and I would have been returning to our home in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin still brings smiles to both of our faces. That was many years ago and is now a part of aviation history.
Here is a little background. In the mid 1970s my husband accepted a promotion which meant that we would have to move from Houston, Texas to a little town in central Wisconsin.
He was to join the small marketing team of Butler Paper Company which was headquartered in Port Edwards a neighboring community to Wisconsin Rapids. We lived in Wisconsin for about four years before returning to Houston where he eventually took over the reigns of managing the Houston division of the company.
We had an Irish Setter named Kelly at the time of our move so we drove one car with Kelly in it and had our other car along with our belongings moved in the van.
When we left Houston, Texas in January of 1976 it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and when we arrived and spent the first night in our new home in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin the temperature was a chilly minus 20 degrees. In a manner of a few days traveling time we had shed 100 degrees of warmth. Brrrr!
We had also gone from what was at the time the fifth largest city in the United States to an area in which the tricity area of Port Edwards, Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids consisted of approximately 30,000 people. Houston now ranks as the fourth largest city in the nation. A few adjustments in lifestyle were about to take place!
Much of my husband's job in those days consisted of traveling around the country visiting the many divisions and branches of the company necessitating transportation in and out of Wisconsin Rapids.
Nekoosa Papers (the parent company of Butler Paper Company) was also headquartered in Port Edwards, Wisconsin which was a stones throw from Wisconsin Rapids. One of the Nekoosa paper mills was located there as well.
It was a small and cozy home office staff and we got to know one another fairly well. Some strong friendships were forged and still last to this day from our experience of living in Wisconsin Rapids.
If the Nekoosa prop airplane or their jet was available my husband and others from Butler Paper Company got to utilize that mode of transportation. Otherwise Midstate Airlines was the only commercial airline company that offered service in that area. It was a very small aircraft that accommodated only fifteen passengers.
Midstate serviced 17 locations in the Wisconsin area. Included were places like Stevens Point, Marshfield, Wausau, Hayward and Wisconsin Rapids among others.
Chicago was the primary route used by my husband and others to connect with larger carriers although occasionally Minneapolis was also utilized depending upon where in the country he would be headed.
The founder of Midstate Airlines was Roy P. Shwery. In 1964 he started his company with a Beechcraft Model 18 and four Beech 99s.
Small Commuter Airlines
It is the Beech 99s that are the subject of this post and our memories. Midstate Airlines eventually acquired 19 passenger Swearingen metroliners to ferry people in and out of the various locations. Long after we had returned to Houston the airline which had changed ownership owned nineteen metroliners and had acquired six Fokker F-27 planes which accommodated 50 passengers and actually had a flight attendant for those larger airplanes.
Midstate Airlines ceased operations in 1989. I vividly remember boarding those small Midstate airplanes where one of normal stature could not stand up straight when walking to one's seat but had to duck one's head and ambulate in a stooped over manner until one was seated.
Boarding passes? Forget it. It was not necessary The good thing was that the boarding in Chicago was swift. No waiting in long lines! We were simply directed out to the airplane, showed our ticket and climbed on board. With the few regulars who were using this airplane traveling back and forth everyone pretty well knew one another and if not it did not take long to get acquainted.
The configuration of the airplane allowed for a bench type of seating to the rear of the plane where one boarded and one row of seats on either side of the aisle with the cockpit to the front. The flights were all relatively short and no restroom was on board the airplane.
Once seated most people's knees touched the seat in front and there was hardly what one might call wiggle room. If it was wintertime it could be quite chilly on board and being bundled up allowed even less wiggle room than previously with the added bulk of clothing. Think sardine can and one would not be far off with respect to how crammed in one felt once on board.
Naturally there was no flight attendant. There would have been no room for anyone navigating up the aisle. Out of courtesy most people would board the airplane and sit up front and gradually fill the airplane front to back. The last people boarding would be seated in the rear of the airplane on that bench.
Have you ever ridden on a Beech 99 airplane?
Here is how the Champagne Flight originated and operated. The wife of the president and owner of the airline decided to offer something a little extra to make those business flights from Chicago a little sweeter.
She packed a cooler with homemade little sandwiches, little bite sized pieces of cheese (it was Wisconsin...after all!), nuts, potato chips, cans of soda, beer and a bottle or two of bubbly. Other sundry items would be added depending upon what she felt like putting into the cooler.
After the last person boarded the airplane the cooler would be put on board. Once the airplane was in the air the person seated in the back automatically knew what to do. Remember...those were regulars flying Midstate airlines.
That person would open the cooler and start passing the empty plastic glasses by tapping the person's shoulder ahead of him who would in turn do the same. Once the glasses and napkins were passed from one passenger to the next the food would be passed in the same manner.
The cans of beer and soda would gradually make their way up to the front of the airplane as well as the bits of food. Everyone would help themselves to whatever they wanted and pass the rest.
Opening the champagne bottle was the person at the back of the airplane's job. Often the corks would go flying! My husband once got a round of applause from the other passengers when he successfully opened the champagne bottle without the cork taking to the air like a flying missile.
This was a fun interlude and everyone enjoyed themselves. Someone from the Chicago Tribune heard about this "Champagne Flight" on Midstate and decided to write an article about it. That was the beginning of the end of that tradition.
Apparently one cannot provide food service in an airplane if one does not have a flight attendant on board. Of course that was impossible given the room constraints of the small airplane. It was too bad for the regular commuters who looked forward to this little tradition but rules are rules and once it was discovered that the rules in place were being bent the Champagne Flight ceased to exist.
So ends the story of the Champagne Flight on Midstate Airlines in Wisconsin. You can probably understand why this bit of trivia still brings smiles to our faces when we think about that period of time in our lives. Few people we know other than those who lived up there and who experienced it first hand have memories of air travel like this.
Location of Wisconsin Rapids in Wisconsin
© 2009 Peggy Woods