Bad Idea: Investors Want to Bring Back Midwest Airlines and Make Milwaukee Great Again

Midwest Airlines, Frontier, and AirTran all tried to hub in Milwaukee. Today, no one does. There are some cities that have been tried and don’t quite work as hubs. America West used to hub in Columbus, for instance.

Old airline brands never seem to die. There’s another attempt to bring back Eastern Airlines.

Source: Eastern Airlines

An airline using the People Express name operated again for a few months in 2014. And Pan Am is a name that just won’t go away.

  • It was reincarneted from 1996 to 1998 operating low cost flights to the Caribbean.

  • A Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based airline operated with the name from 1998 to 2004.

  • Then Boston-Maine Airways used the name 2004 through February 2008.

  • A cargo airline based in Brownsville, Texas started using the name in 2010. They planned to move into passenger service, but a child pornography conviction for their CEO got in the way.

  • A Dominican Republic airline operated domestic flights under the name Pan Am Dominicana until March 2012.

Often investors think that the country needs a new airline, and believe that the best business opportunity happens to be wherever they live. And they think that defunct airlines have great brands that will attract customers because they themselves remember those brands fondly.

So there’s a move afoot to bring back Midwest Airlines and operate a hub in Milwaukee.

Credit: RuthAS, via Wikimedia Commons

The original Midwest Express was born out of Kimberly-Clark corporation’s shuttling executives on their own K-C Aviation. After deregulation they began passenger service under the Midwest Express name.

They changed their name to Midwest Airlines in 2002. They struggled after 9/11, and thought the name change would better communicate that they were a full service airline and not a regional feeder since the ‘Express’ moniker was often used for prop planes and regional jets flying outsourced routes for legacy airlines.

Ultimately Republic Holdings folded Midwest Airlines into Frontier in 2010. Its modern history was as a more traditional airline, no longer offering everyone more generous seating, gourmet meals, or cookies. But some people ‘remember when’.

So far two investors have put in $750,000 in debt financing for an enterprise that would likely take tens of millions of dollars. So don’t expect things to happen soon. But their chances are at least better than Avatar Airlines.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. But those cookies! The whole cabin would smell like a bakery. And the seats were soooo comfortable!

  2. The Pan Am Experience is mega popular, so maybe Yogi Berra was wrong about nostalgia not being what it used to be. It’d be great to find some way to harness that in a way that works out for the flying public and the business.

  3. Mmmmmm….warm cookies. I only flew them a few times, even as a Wisconsinite, but I remember those cookies. I didn’t reach my peak flying years until after they disappeared. I think for years there have been dreams/hopes/ideas/talk about making MKE Chicago’s 3rd airport.

    MKE is south of downtown Milwaukee right off Interstate 94, about 70 miles from O’Hare, which is 20 miles from downtown already. I am not an expert, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I just don’t think that is how the industry functions.

    Yeah, in certain circumstances you can use MKE as an alternative to ORD. But, it’s going to be an inconvenience of some kind if you are actually trying to get to Chicago. Though, admittedly, the Hiawatha Amtrak line is reasonably easy to use from the airport.

  4. I think the internet did much to accelerate the demise of Midwest Airlines. Their fares were a bit higher than the others, but you got a much better experience and value. The planes had first class seats, and hot meals (plus the cookies) on many flights. They even broke out the catering costs in their annual reports to show how much better the service was for their passengers.
    Unfortunately, if a ticket is 5 cents higher than a competitor, it goes down the list on the travel web sites, which are usually sorted by price.
    As much as I would like to see that come back, I don’t see it working in today’s basic economy environment.

  5. Midwest was profitable and only folded because it was bought out by “On August 12, 2007, it was announced that AirTran had lost the bid for Midwest. A private equity group, headed by TPG Capital and including Northwest Airlines, purchased Midwest and turned the airline into a privately funded company. ”
    This is the way Private Equity Groups operate, borrow like H*ell in order to acquire, burden the business with the new heavy debt, milk it for it’s assets then throw it away. It was a great airline. Kimberly-Clark should have never taken it public.

  6. One of the best airlines ever, if not *the* best, Midwest Express was a true gem. But it’s too late. They’re gone and can’t be brought back. And anyway, Southwest and to a lesser extent Delta have taken over MKE and now own it. There’s just no room for a third airline and any attempts will result in failure.

  7. Airlines are very profitable now and will continue to be so unless there are new entrants like Midwest Express. I hope they are able to raise the cash.

  8. Save the cookie! They folded because of the private equity firm that bought the airline. The month before Republic folded the airline into Frontier the FAA said MKE was the busiest medium hub in the US.

  9. Always enjoyed Air Kleenex, with the near-first-class service, free wine, and, of course, the cookies. My wife enjoyed the shortest flight of her life when her Midwest Express flight into DFW landed at Love Field due to a storm screwing up DFW. When the rain stopped, she flew from DAL to DFW. Not many people can claim to have done that.

  10. I flew every Monday and Friday between Dallas/Ft Worth and Milwaukee for a couple of years. Midwest was by far the best airline I’ve been on. I’ve flown on many since the 60’s and many are not around or have merged, like Frontier that was a good airline at one time. Would not fly them or the likes of a Spirt ever again. I would gladly travel the hour and half from the Chicago area to Milwaukee to fly Midwest again. They just made you feel like you were somebody not just a ticket or bag.

  11. Bring back Midwest Express…I love their new logo..I guess they’ll be flying CRJ 200 aircraft..Fly to Dayton,Ohio..

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