Midwest Airlines Stops Flying (Its Own Planes)

This may seem like a footnote to some, but just two days ago, Midwest officially stopped flying its own aircraft. That doesn’t mean, as we all know, that the Midwest brand is going away. It just means that now it is nothing more than a brand. So I think a little obituary (and cookie cannon salute) is appropriate.

Midwest has been around for a lot longer than you might expect. The airline started out simply as the corporate shuttle for Kleenex (and other consumer products) maker Kimberley Clark after World War II. In 1969, the company decided to do more and put its corporate aircraft under the name K-C Aviation to start flying for other Midwest Retires the 717, Gets a Cookie Cannon Salutecompanies.

In 1984, the Midwest Express you’ve come to know was formed when the airline launched from under the K-C Aviation name. Midwest Express had wide leather seats and the airline served excellent meals. The airline grew up in the 1980s and actually thrived for awhile. In 2003, the name was shortened to Midwest Airlines, apparently to keep people from thinking the airline was a commuter flying puddlejumpers around the upper Midwest. (That was actually handled by SkyWay, which has since stopped flying as well.)

Midwest had been on a downhill slide for a long time. The meals were taken away, and the generous configuration was shrunk to effectively be only a first class cabin up front with normal seating behind. The only thing that really remained was the trademark cookie that is baked on-board flights.

When Northwest and TPG got together to buy Midwest instead of letting AirTran acquire the airline, CEO Tim Hoeksema was praised for “saving the cookie.” He may have saved the cookie, but it was at the expense of a lot of jobs.

I was surprised when Republic took Midwest off TPG’s hands, but now the strategy has become more clear. They want the brand but nothing else.

On November 2, Midwest Airlines Boeing 717 N920ME landed in Milwaukee at 920p Central Time after a flight from Boston. That somber occasion marked the last flight operated by Midwest Airlines. I imagine it was particularly tough for the crew on that flight – the captain has flown for Midwest for 24 years. Now there are no airplanes left to fly.

Midwest is survived by its weakened brand (operated by Republic, Chautauqua, or Frontier). It was 25 years old.

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