Midwest Express Has a Deal to Launch Air Service From Its Hub in Milwaukee

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 I wrote a year ago that there’s a move afoot to bring back Midwest Airlines and operate a hub in Milwaukee.

  • Midwest Airlines, Frontier, and AirTran all tried to hub in Milwaukee. Today, no one does.

  • Eastern, Pan Am, and People Express reboots didn’t work very well, either.

A strong hub needs to have significant demand from local residents, or be a major destination that people around the country want to fly to. Ideally it’s demand from business travelers who will pay a premium for convenient flights. Milwaukee just isn’t the market that Chicago O’Hare – a mere 67 mile flight away – is.

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 to distinguish themselves from a feeder carrier flying prop planes and regional jets.

Credit: RuthAS, via Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately Republic Holdings folded Midwest Airlines into Frontier in 2010. When Frontier largely bailed on Milwaukee two years later they worked out a deal with Delta allowing their Milwaukee-based members to transfer their miles and status to SkyMiles.

There’s now an agreement in place with charter operator Elite Airways to provide aircraft, crew and maintenance under the Midwest Express brand. The plan though still has much to be worked out.

  • There have been no announcements about routes and schedules offering only that “focus of the initial routes and flight times will be based on business community needs” and that they’ll share details soon.

  • They haven’t discussed gate and ticket counter space with the Milwaukee airport.

This isn’t going to be an all first class operation like Midwest once was. Elite Airways operates Bombardier 50 seat regional jets and 70 seat planes. Hopefully they’ll offer warm chocolate chip cookies, the last vestige of what was once the carrier’s premium service, although I’d be surprised if Elite’s regional jet fleets has ovens.

Milwaukee airport, Credit: Americasroof, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license

The President of this new airline has industry chops, having previously served in Vice President of Network Planning roles at Frontier, Midwest, Vanguard, and Texas Air (including Continental and New York Air). The plan to have Elite Airways operate the flights is an interim measure, and long-term they want to operate under their own certificate.

There may be a handful of routes that could be served non-stop with 50 seat regional jets but that are currently ignored by major carriers more focused on flying passengers through their hubs. Regional jets have high seat costs, though are less expensive in total to operate than larger aircraft.

If the carrier can get minimum guarantees from the community it’s possible a small operation could work there. It’s a better business plan than Avatar Airlines. Becoming a major airline, though, based in Milwaukee simply isn’t in the cards. However there’s no timetable to begin service at this point.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. > This isn’t going to be an all first class operation like Midwest once was.

    That was Midwest’s brand promise — why bring back the brand if you’re removing the key element?

  2. I have fond memories of flying Midwest Express when I was a college student in Wisconsin. The premium service (and those cookies!) set me up for a rude awakening though when I graduated and started flying elsewhere on other airlines economy.

  3. My 82 year old mother in law’s 1st flight was on MidwestExp. She thought all planes were like that. She wondered why people complained about air travel.

  4. I agree with lenin1991. As much as I loved the warm chocolate chip cookies, it was the comfy seats and great crews that sold me on Midwest. For years, if they flew where I needed to go, I would ONLY fly Midwest. If they aren’t going to BE Midwest, no point….

  5. While I loved the big seats and chocolate chip cookies, what I miss most is direct flights between Milwaukee and Omaha. Not sure what the demand is but I would be a very happy and frequent flier. Overall, I think the real value is offering direct flights to a midsize city that you can only now get to thru hub connections. I think most business travelers can forgive the lack of cookies and larger seats just to be able to get a direct flight!

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