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Memories of Champagne Flight on Midstate Airlines in Wisconsin

Updated on January 3, 2018
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Airplane Memories

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.

Photo of our Irish Setter Kelly
Photo of our Irish Setter Kelly | Source

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!

Beechcraft model 18 plane
Beechcraft model 18 plane | Source

Midstate Airlines

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.

A Beech 99 Airliner aircraft
A Beech 99 Airliner aircraft | Source

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.

No need for boarding passes back then!
No need for boarding passes back then!

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.

We were packed in like sardines!
We were packed in like sardines!

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?

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Champagne Flight

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.

Plastic glasses were passed up one side of the airplane and then back down the other side.
Plastic glasses were passed up one side of the airplane and then back down the other side.

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.

Cans of beer and soda were passed from person to person.
Cans of beer and soda were passed from person to person.

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.

Champagne Cork
Champagne Cork | Source

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.

All kinds of snacks were on board the airplane.
All kinds of snacks were on board the airplane.
There were homemade sandwiches as well.
There were homemade sandwiches as well.

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

A
:
Wisconsin Rapids, WI, USA

get directions

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

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    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi George Sullivan,

      The Internet is amazing! My husband also got to fly on the Nekoosa jet many different times as well as Midstate Airlines. Am going to forward this to him so that he can email you and find out if anyone he knows has the information you seek. Hope that someone he knows has that information.

    • profile image

      George Sullivan 

      5 years ago

      As a sales rep. for Butler Papers Chicago division, I was fortunate to fly aboard the Air Nekoosa corporate jet, back in the late 1980's. As I remember, it was a British Aerospace, twin engine De Havilland, which seated 9 passengers and two or three crew members. A complimentary pamphlet, entitled "Welcome to Air Nekoosa", was placed on the seat of each passenger and was yours for the taking. I had saved several of them but over the years have either lost or missplaced them. I wonder if anyone associated with Butler or Nekoosa Paper, still has a copy. I would love to see a picture of that jet again. If so, would it be possible for you to download and email me a copy of it? It would make my retirement complete. Feel free to contact me by email at: georgeanddeb@hotmail.com Thanks for the memories. Im sure that all of you have some great ones too. Sincerely, George Sullivan

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Deb,

      Thanks for the correction on the spelling. We often flew on Midstate airlines going in and out of Wisconsin Rapids and have many memories of that champagne flight. Were they still doing the champagne flight when you were flying?

    • profile image

      Deb 

      7 years ago

      Great story! Just one correction: it was Midstate Airlines. One word. Not Mid-State. Best job I ever had......

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Greetings CoolBlueWater,

      If you liked those old prop airplanes, you would have LOVED Mid-State in Wisconsin. At least we all have our memories of these no longer in operation flights. Glad you liked this post and thanks for the comment.

    • CoolBlueWater profile image

      CoolBlueWater 

      8 years ago

      As an airplane enthusiast as a teenager, I used to go out of my way to fly from New York to Baltimore on all the old Prop Jets, Convair 580, FH-227, YS-11 etc by Going Newark to Lynchburgh, VA with a stop in Charlottesville, VA, then to Danville, VA on another plane, then to Washington National on another that continued on to Baltimore Friendship International (Now BWI)! I don't think you can even fly between most of those cities anymore! Fun post! Thanks!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Candie,

      The cooler was the last thing put on the airplane after the last passenger had boarded and secured that bench seat in the back. If the plane would have had problems and we would have had to disembark in an emergency...the cooler would have been the first off the plane! Ha!

      Leg room...non-existent. Reclining seats...only in one's dreams! We certainly do seem to have shared similar experiences regarding flying in those sardine cans...oops!...I mean Beech 99's or some similar airplane. LOL

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      8 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      Cooler? You had a cooler? I wish our little hopper had that, come to think of it, I'm not sure where the pilot stashed the soda he rolled down to us.. maybe they were keeping the cooler for themselves? Now I can't even remember if the soda was cold, for that matter! That plane was a commuter hop between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Long, stiff flight! I don't complain about leg room or reclining seats anymore!!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Mardi,

      That was a nice perk you had of catching a train ride whenever you wanted because of your grandfather. And you had your libations of choice! LOL Yes...too bad about the regulations that put the Mid-State champagne flight out of operation. We each served as our OWN flight attendants on that plane. Thanks for the comment and memories of your own.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Godslittlechild,

      I take it from your comment that you do not like small airplanes. One thing about Mid-State Airline...it had a terrific safety record...so while it may not have offered much in the way of roomy interiors, at least we felt fairly assured of our safety while flying with them. Thanks for the comments.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Laurel,

      It WAS a shame that this little tradition had to end. After all, it was voluntary whether one actually participated in eating or drinking anything. Had it not made the news and garnished publicity, it may have continued to last as long as the airline was still in existence. I totally agree with you! Thanks for the comment.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Sandi 3m,

      Since you have been on small airplanes you would realize the closeness and fun that this champagne flight would have generated. Everyone had to participate as everyone was passing the food and drink to one another. No chance to be a quiet recluse on that particular flight! Ha! Thanks for the comment.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      I agree with others, always a party pooper in the crowd. I used to take the train with my grandfather between our farm and his home, was a great tradition. It wasn't a passenger but a freight train, he was a retired engineer so we could always hitch a ride. Everyone from the small community did it, sort of the same idea. No champagne but someone always had beer, we were in Canada after all!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ethel,

      It was fun! Those were the days!

    • Godslittlechild profile image

      Godslittlechild 

      8 years ago

      This is a terrific story. I've been on one small plane hop and that was enough for me.

    • Godslittlechild profile image

      Godslittlechild 

      8 years ago

      This is a terrific story. I've been on one small plane hop and that was enough for me.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi agusfanani,

      You have that exactly right! The atmosphere on those Mid-State champagne flights was fun...especially with most everyone knowing one another. Thanks

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello loveroflife,

      Yes, there were adjustments but we enjoyed ourselves and met some wonderful people while living there. It was too bad the champagne flight had to be ended. Thanks for the comment.

    • Laurel Oakes profile image

      Laurel Oakes 

      8 years ago

      Its ashame that someone is always out to ruin a good time whats the harm in eating, and drinking a little bubbly?

      I really enjoyed this Hub.

    • profile image

      Sandi 3m 

      8 years ago

      I have been on some really small planes, would have liked this one! Great story.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      What fun Peggy.

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 

      8 years ago from Indonesia

      A great story Peggy W, I can imagine the atmosphere in the plane: a lot of fun and familiarity among passengers.

    • profile image

      loveroflife 

      8 years ago

      Great story. First, it must have been quite a shock, both climatically and culturally, to make that move. And then, because of bureaucratic rules to be denied such a small pleasure in a "sardine can" seems wrong.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Jess,

      I take it from what you said that Mid-State (at least the Beech 99's) were smaller than your American Eagle flights when we were commuting in and out of Wisconsin Rapids those many years ago. Happy that you enjoyed this story of our memories of the champagne flight. Thanks for the comment.

    • Jess Killmenow profile image

      Jess Killmenow 

      8 years ago from Nowheresville, Eastern United States

      I thought the "American Eagle" shuttle planes between New York and Boston were small! Great story!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pete,

      I am familiar with that term...puddle jumpers. I think when we were flying Mid-State Airline, it would have qualified for that terminology. Few "puddle jumpers" ever served champagne however! Ha! Thanks for the comment.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      8 years ago

      I have flow on some little planes. The ones that fly around the Pacific islands were called puddle jumpers.

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Candie,

      Sounds like you know the airplane! There was just about room enough for that rolling soda can in the aisle. Ha! The cooler with the goodies...so called "champagne flight" was quite something. Everyone always seemed to enjoy it. This experience was about as far as one can get from first class flying in a larger airplane! LOL Enjoyed reading your comment. Thanks!

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      8 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      I loved this hub! I've been on a few tiny commuter planes.. one fixed seat on each side of the aisle and a bench seat in back.. I think there were 5 or 6 rows and the pilot rolled our soda down the aisle to us!! Talk about a 'no frills' flight. He even counted us before take-off! Give me a huge jumbo plane any day! First class is out of my reach financially, but some day! Thank you Peggy!!

    • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Hello, hello,

      It provides a fun memory for those of us who experienced flying on Mid-State Airline in those days. Thanks for the early comment.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      That is a lovely story and thank you for sharing.

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