Built in 1951, the airport was served in the 1950s by Alaska Airlines, Northwest Orient, Pacific Northern Airlines and Reeve Aleutian Airways, using aircraft ranging from Douglas DC-3s to Boeing 377s, and was also a refueling stop for Canadian Pacific Air Lines service to the Far East (one such aircraft being involved in a 1951 disappearance). From 1955 to 2011, the eastern end of the airport's southernmost runway connected to the Kulis Air National Guard Base.
Anchorage was a common stopover for passengers flying to East Asia until the late 1980s because Chinese and Soviet airspace were off-limits and because the first generation of jets and wide body airliners did not have the range to fly non-stop across the Pacific Ocean. Carriers using Anchorage for this purpose included:
Northwest Orient, the first airline to operate scheduled transpacific service after World War II, used Elmendorf Field and later Anchorage International as a stopover for service between US points (Seattle, Chicago and Minneapolis at various times) and Tokyo as late as the mid-1970s.
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) began a transpolar flight from Copenhagen to Tokyo via Anchorage in 1957.
Japan Airlines served Seattle through Anchorage in the early 1960s, and offered service through Anchorage to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and other European cities from the 1960s until as late as 1987.
Air France, British Airways, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa and Sabena all used Anchorage as a stopover point between Europe and Tokyo into the 1980s.
Korean Air used Anchorage as a stopover point for flights between Seoul and both Europe and the continental US in the 1980s. On September 1, 1983, one of these flights, Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet pilot who had mistaken it for a spy plane, after unintentionally violating Soviet airspace.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is also a major cargo hub. As of 2015, it ranked as the fourth busiest airport in the world by cargo traffic, after Hong Kong, Memphis, and Shanghai–Pudong.
FedEx Express and UPS Airlines operate major hubs at Anchorage International for cargo heading to and from the Far East. NWA Cargo used to operate a major hub at the airport until December 28, 2009 when it closed all operations for Northwest Cargo at all airports. FedEx Express is the airport's largest cargo facility and can handle as many as 13,400 packages per hour, employing more than 1,200 people and providing a full customs clearance system. United Parcel Service's hub handles about 5,000 parcels per hour. Both companies forecast a large growth in traffic over the next several years as trade with China and other Far East countries increases and plan to expand their Anchorage facilities comparatively. The United States Postal Service also operates a large sectional center facility (SCF) for the 995xx ZIP Codes. It processes mail and parcels headed to and from all Alaska cities.