Avgeeks always love an airline comeback. The trouble is that almost every one of them fails. In the past few years, we’ve seen PeoplExpress and Eastern Airlines fail. PanAm’s multiple reincarnations have failed. And the rumored World Airways restart still hasn’t happened either. So when we heard about Midwest Express restarting, we have to admit that we were more than just a little skeptical. The crazy thing is though, that their plan might actually work. Let’s dig a bit deeper…
What Made Midwest Express So Special?
The original Midwest Express was known for business class service with cookies, leather seats and full meals. Over time, the airline added coach class service to remain competitive. They refreshed their fleet of DC-9 aircraft with MD-80s and later Boeing 717s.
But after 9/11, the airline struggled to maintain market share as the industry changed and became much more cost conscious. Midwest Express was acquired by Republic Airways, part of a merger with Frontier Airlines. The two airlines co-existed and codeshared but was eventually rolled into Frontier’s operations. The end of Midwest Express was actually sad to see. The Boeing 717s were returned, the standout customer service was outsourced, and even the cookies were hit or miss at the end.
What’s the plan?
The new Midwest Express will focus on underserved markets from their base in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They announced that they will begin service to Cincinnati, Omaha, and Grand Rapids with additional cities to be added later, three markets with no direct flights from Milwaukee. The refreshed Midwest Express is looking to restart service by the end of the year.
In order to simplify the startup process, they have hired Elite Airways to operate the routes on the airline’s behalf. Elite will utilize CRJ-200s in full Midwest Express colors. Of course we all know that the CRJ isn’t exactly the airliner known for comfort.
Per the announcement, “This operating agreement with Elite Airways is a key step to bring much-needed nonstop service back to Milwaukee,” said Greg Aretakis, president of Midwest Express. “We identified Elite Airways as a well-suited partner due to its extensive operating experience, high-quality customer service approach, and exemplary safety record. By partnering with Elite, we expedite bringing our service to the market while we pursue federal licenses required to operate independently.”
Elite Airways will provide the initial aircraft, flight crews and maintenance service for Midwest Express, and Midwest Express will establish its own reservations system, customer service operations and in-flight amenities to support the new flights. All public-facing customer interaction, including the branding on the planes, will be Midwest Express. In addition to providing flight operations, Elite will work in tandem with Midwest to complete regulatory and operational steps for Midwest to obtain its own airline operating certificate.
Will This Reboot Work?
The simple answer is ‘who knows?’ There are reasons for optimism though. The airline has had a real office in Milwaukee for the past few months in preparation for a restart. The new Midwest Express is reportedly well financed with former senior leaders from the original airline at the helm of the new upstart. On the positive, most Wisconsin residents have fond memories of the airline. If you mention the name Midwest Express to someone from Milwaukee, they will instantly mention the cookies. So they have the positive local vibe going for them.
They also have a compelling use case. Milwaukee has grown significantly with service from significant Southwest, JetBlue and Delta but there are still holes in the network. The new Midwest Express hopes to fill the gaps. The hope is that exceptional service, direct flights, leather seats (on a CRJ), and yes, cookies will convince locals to give the rebooted airline a try. We have to be honest though, there are very few successful airlines that have been started this century. There are even fewer successful startup airlines that leverage other airlines to provide services. It doesn’t mean that success is impossible, it just means that it is improbable. We wish them luck!