Midwest Shrinks Again in Latest Restructuring

There’s been a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over Milwaukee during the last few weeks as Midwest worked on its latest round of restructuring. Sure, they had already announced that the MD-80s would be retired and that employee wages would be slashed, but it never seemed to be final. As of yesterday, we now know the airline’s full plans for survival and it once again involves shrinking. Midwest ShrinkingIt now seems more clear to me that Midwest aspires to be a regional operator for the new Delta.

After retiring the MD-80s, Midwest had planned on operating 25 717s. Now, 16 of those will be returned leaving only 9 in the fleet. How will they replace them? With 12 Embraer 170s from Republic.

So, Midwest will now operate only 21 aircraft, down from 37 before this started. (I’m ignoring the SkyWest operated CRJs for this discussion.) Oh, and the new aircraft will have 23 fewer seats than the new 99-seat configuration on the 717s. Clearly, losing four more planes means that some routes will have to be cut or frequencies will have to be reduced. None of the schedule changes have been announced yet, but it has to be coming.

Most interesting here is the addition of the Republic Embraers. These planes will initially be operated by Republic, but Midwest plans on bringing them under their own certificate in the next couple years. It’s important to note that these aircraft will remain in the 76-seat, 31″ pitch configuration they had when they were flying for Frontier. Remember when Midwest had plush 2 x 2 seating on all its aircraft? That’s now become Midwest Class, and you’ll only find it in the first ten rows of the nine remaining 717s. Everything else is standard coach.

This latest restructuring sees new funding from TPG and Republic (I talk more about that on BNET today), but the codeshare and frequent flier partnership with Northwest isn’t going anywhere. So, let’s look at where Midwest might be in a couple years. They’ll have 12 Embraer 170s flying in standard coach configuration. Is it really a stretch to think those will be flying under the Delta Connection banner (assuming the merger goes through)? As for those remaining 717s . . . I can’t imagine it will be hard to get rid of those. The CRJ contract with SkyWest can disappear as well. If Delta likes what they see, they could send more Embraer flying over to Midwest over time, I suppose.

It’s a slow and painful transition for Midwest, that’s for sure, but I now see a path for where they going. It kind of reminds of what Midway did after they converted into a (now-failed) express carrier for US Airways. It might mean survival for them if Delta feels generous, but the days of a true premium product are fading quickly.

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