Finally Flying Midwest, er Frontier, er Chautauqua (Trip Report)

It seems like I’ve been trying to fly Midwest for years. When I was in school in DC in the ’90s, I always wanted to fly the airline that had fancy seats and delicious meals. Even more recently when the product Dawn Over the Clouds 2had been completely altered, I still tried to fly them. They canceled our flight before we could try it. But this was finally going to be my chance to “fly” Midwest. I put that in quotes because there’s really very little “Midwest” about it. In fact, I would argue that the cookie is pretty much the only thing left. Don’t get me wrong, the flights were nice, but a blown connection meant our trip took a lot longer than we had hoped.

We paid a mere $158.70 per person for the one way on a redeye to Milwaukee with a 2.5 hour connection before heading on to Indianapolis. Leading up to our flight, I watched the potential ice storm approaching Milwaukee with fear. This was going to be ugly. Surprisingly, it was actually the weather in Denver that caused us problems, not Milwaukee.


December 23, 2009
Midwest #754 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1130p Arr Milwaukee (MKE) 511a
LAX: Gate 67B, Runway 25R, Dept 2h31m Late
MKE: Gate D47, Runway 7R, Arr 2h30m Late
Aircraft: N914FR, Airbus A319-111, Stretch the Egret Tail, 100% Full
Seat: 8A
Flight Time: 3h31m

This flight comes in to LA from Denver as a Frontier flight and then turns to Milwaukee as a Midwest Midwest/Frontier Gate at LAXflight. They don’t dedicate aircraft to one operation. The snow in Denver kept causing taxi delays, and we sat at home watching the flight get pushed further and further.

It did get in the air (finally) and we headed to the airport. There was no line at security, and we wandered up to the same gate (at right) we used to fly Virgin America before they moved from Terminal 6 to Terminal 3. People were sprawled out as best they could (the armrests aren’t moveable, drat). The only other flight around was a Copa flight down to Panama.

I saw on FlightAware that our plane wouldn’t be arriving until just before 1a, yet they had a 117a departure posted. Yeah, right. Our flight had been delayed so much that I was now afraid we would miss our connection. I went up to the gate agents to ask.

There were four agents standing in a circle, three with their backs toward me. I asked them if there were other flights with seats available were we to miss our connection in Milwaukee. A grumpy woman behind the counter said that wouldn’t happen.

After her repeated assurances that everything would be fine, I finally said to her, “look, can you just tell me if there are other flights to Indy with room just in case?” She said, “they’ll handle that in Milwaukee, but you won’t miss your connection. They’re holding all flights in Milwaukee.” I’ve heard that one before. Exasperated, I just looked at her and said, “You can’t just check?”

Apparently annoyed that I had tried to ask her to be helpful, she started typing in her computer while the agent next to her reminded her that the code for Milwaukee was MKE. Oh boy.

A couple seconds later, she said, “nope, no seats for the rest of the day. But you’ll make your connection.” They said the same thing in an announcement to all the customers.

As predicted, the flight arrived at about 1a and took absolutely forever to turn around. My understanding is that the PA system in the gate area doesn’t work, and they’re still waiting for LAX to fix the problem. That only added to the chaos to hear agents shouting things out. The line to board backed up to the beginning of the jet bridge, and it was moving very slowly. Eventually, we all got on the plane, but the turn took a solid hour.

The flight itself was a blur. I’m not sure if they served the traditional Midwest cookie because I actually passed out pretty quickly from exhaustion. Everything else on the plane was distinctly Frontier. Midwest isn’t even a brand anymore – it’s just a name they seem to use for selling purposes but that’s it these days.

Frontier Milwaukee's Welcome Letterdoes have some nice leather seats with headrests and, of course, LiveTV, so I can’t complain. I woke up over the Rockies and went in and out of sleep the rest of the flight. When we passed over Iowa, we hit some bumps, but that was about it. The captain told us it would be bumpy coming in to Milwaukee, but it wasn’t at all.

We landed in a dreary, cold, and snow-filled Milwaukee about 10 minutes after our connection was supposed to leave. I whipped out my phone and found that our plane had already left. Bastards.

Before they let everyone off, they told people that the Pittsburgh flight was still there, but all the other flights left, so we had to all be rebooked. Not cool at all.

Fortunately, someone who does PR for Milwaukee’s airport had emailed me before asking me a fair bit about the blog and wanting to learn more about what type of PR I would like to see from Milwaukee. I mentioned off-hand that I was actually flying through Milwaukee for the first time. When our flight got closer, I found an email from her saying we had been put on the guest list for Midwest’s Best Care Club. That was very nice of her and it really made our lives infinitely better with our long layover.

So even though they said to see an agent to be rebooked, we wandered over to the clubOur Claimed Territory in the Best Care Club Milwaukee and we were the only ones there. The woman working the front desk had a bag of MKE goodies waiting for us with a personalized poem (above left, click to enlarge), and I asked her if we’d be able to get out. She said that we had already been rebooked and she had our boarding passes for the next flight. It was only half full. The LAX agent lied.

So we went into the club, had a traditional cookie, and then passed out for a couple hours. Kirsten was thrilled that the MKE gift bag included a fleece blanket. She stole it and made herself a nice little nap Excellent Bookstore at Milwaukeearea on the ground. I, however, couldn’t sleep.

The club is actually one of the nicer ones around. It’s very oddly shaped, which is perfect, because it creates a few, smaller private areas. We found the big TV with a fireplace on the other side of the room, and I sat there watching as I checked my email.

A friend of mine was coming into MKE around 11a, so I figured I would go meet him. The club attendant assured me that security lines wouldn’t be long, Trying to Rest in the Midwest Best Care Club - Milwaukeeso I went out to the main area and walked around. There’s a fantastic old bookstore with tall stacks and lots of cool old books for sale. (I found some very old United government documents for sale in a book for $75, but I didn’t buy it.) Then I went over to the aviation museum where I met my friend.

It was a great way to spend the time, but I just wish that central area was inside security. The lines to get back were short, however, and soon I was back in the club. Kirsten was still passed out. You know when you get to the point where you’re so tired, you’ll do anything to sleep? Yeah, I was there. I kept trying to rearrange the furniture to help me sleep better, but alas, I never did.


December 24, 2009
Midwest #1205 Lv Milwaukee (MKE) 120p Arr Indianapolis (IND) 320p
MKE: Gate D28, Runway 19R, Dept 5m Early
IND: Gate B13, Runway 5L, Arr On Time
Aircraft: N380SK, Embraer ERJ-135KL, Generic Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 3C
Flight Time: 35m

This flight was at gate D28, which actually boards from underneath the main concourse. We had to walk out into the cold air before boarding on a snow slicked ramp up to the airplane. This plane was an ERJ-135 that used to see service as American Connection out of St Louis. They had given it a new, generic Our Airplane on the MKE Ramp - N380SKpaint job, but not much else changed.

Our flight attendant was surprisingly old for what I’ve come to expect on a regional carrier. Then I remembered that Midwest pilots and flight attendants were now working at the bottom of the seniority list. I asked, and sure enough, she used to work for Midwest. She did a great job.

This flight was like pretty much any other. We sat in the clouds most of the time, and our flight attendant came by handing out cookies. After a very short ride, it was time to land in dreary Indianapolis. We were exhausted.

Tomorrow, I’ll have our return on American in First Class . . .

As a postscript, I thought it worth noting that I’ve already received a personal email apology from the station manager at LAX. That was a very nice gesture.

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30 Comments on "Finally Flying Midwest, er Frontier, er Chautauqua (Trip Report)"

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Dan
Guest

I’m just curious… did the LAX agent really lie to you about availability, or did a bunch of mis-connects free up seats?

Anon
Guest

Your trip reports have become less and less useful to average travelers who don’t operate well-known travel blogs, because it’s pretty clear that you get a lot of special treatment while traveling. I appreciate your disclosure, but your travel experiences are pretty atypical (e.g., free passes to clubs, actually receiving an appology after dealing with a surly/incompetent gate agent).

Zach
Guest

Cranky–I always immensely enjoy your trip reports. I couldn’t help but feel bad for the MKE staff, who obviously went to some impressive lengths to make you feel welcome, but who were destined/doomed from the start to be part of a negative report due to the incompetence and nastiness of the LAX crew (although the distinction between the two is quite clear).

Ed Casper
Guest

The used book store at MKE is a branch of a really large used book store located in downtown Milwaukee. Unfortunately the name of the store escapes me as I haven’t been there in years.

frank
Guest

and, who’s that in the picture with their FEET ON THE FURNITURE?
Who’s reduced a beautiful CLUB into a refugee camp!

David SF eastbay
Member

Who is that sleeping in the chair, you or Rick Moranis? For some reason in that pic that’s who it looks like…….lol

Nick Barnard
Member

@ Anon:
CF wrote:

Ah come on – I kept my shoes off the furniture – just rested my legs.

I think you’re just trying to do the CF look far too hard in that picture…

I’ll be interesting watching how Frontier and Midwest are used by Republic…

Joe
Guest

You call both Milwaukee and Indianapolis “dreary.” Couldn’t think of another adjective? I guess you don’t like the Midwest (the region, not the airline) much.

jaybru
Member
Cranky, Having drunk the Kool-Aid for some time now, I always find your reports/stories/issues/comments extremely interesting. I’m struck by how difficult airline travel seems to have become. Isn’t it supposed to have gotten easier? Of course, I can still remember worrying about whether those Electra wings were going to stay on and not fall off somewhere over Oklahoma, or whether this trip might be a repeat of some New York City or Grand Canyon mid-air collison. Today, it seems it’s about customer service, or the lack thereof, and who is actually operating this flight. Yes, my ticket says Northwest, but… Read more »
Andrew
Guest
Enjoyed the report, Cranky. I also flew “Midwest” over the holidays (DEN to MSN via MKE on 12/19, then in reverse on 12/23). Growing up in WI, I had a lot of chances to fly the old “Midwest” and while I never saw what the big deal was, it was generally a pretty nice airline. This was the first time I had flown Midwest in years, and I only did so because they were by far the cheapest option for my odd itinerary. (What UA charges for their direct DEN to MSN flights is highway robbery). What struck me about… Read more »
Marty Near DFW
Guest

As far as I’m concerned, the real Midwest Airlines went away when they sold the last 717. We’ve flown Midwest operated by Republic and it just isn’t Sconnie any more. It’s too bad you never had the opportunity to fly Midwest’s Signature Service. It was good enough for me to cheat on American Airlines for DFW/MKE flights.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say about your flight on AA and the ride in the front of the plane.

=M=

Oliver
Guest

@CF — did you get the apology email from the station manager in response to this post? Or was it an apology just for the delay?

Stacy
Guest

Marty Near DFW wrote:

I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say about your flight on AA and the ride in the front of the plane.
=M=

Just don’t ask for any orange juice!

Scott
Guest
Now Brett, you know it’s a long shot to say the agent lied. You’re one who has always defended Customer Service staff as having jobs more complex than the media gives them credit for, why not in this case? If it was necessary to remind them of the airport code for MKE, perhaps their claim was supported by incompetence, looking at the wrong information, wrong date, wrong city pairs? True, the service you got was abhorrent, but you can’t tell if it’s an outright *lie* unless you’re looking at the same information at the same time. An agent in MKE… Read more »
Spencer
Guest

Nice trip report.

How do you figure out where your plane is coming from ahead of time before you get to the airport. I know on continental.com they tell you, but none of the other airlines websites tell you, that I am aware of.

Darren
Guest

Any comments from the LAX station manager you are willing to make public?

BTW thank you for being candid about your experience at LAX, making instances like this public makes airlines more accountable to treat customers with basic dignity.

Chad
Guest
Midwest of today (& Frontier as well) have absolutely no resemblance to the midwest of the Kimberly Clark era. Quite frankly if the “cookie’ is as what the CEO of Republic holdings “what keeps those in Milwaukee flying his airlines, I thing he is sadly mistaken. he need only look at the increasing boardings over at AirTran to see someone doing a better job than his acquisitions are doing. I now prefer AirTran or Southwest over his “overzealous” commuter operation. If this is offensive to anyone, this is how I see it, and Im a very frequent MKE flyer.
Terry
Guest
What a shame your reports are not a fair representative of the great experiences I have had when travelling Frontier & Midwest. May I suggest your mood prior to setting off (late inward service) set the tone and you were treated in the same discourteous manner you treated the staff with? As a frequent flier based in the UK, I know world class service comes from within. You treat staff with respect you get it back 10 fold! As someone has said, seats become available due to misconnects. I’ve yet to come across any agent worth their salt who would… Read more »
Adam
Guest
@ CF: Cranky – You’ve got great insights on the industry and I enjoy reading your blog more than any other. Keep it up. My comment isn’t an attack on your creditability, as I just said I think you’re great, but I have been wanting to ask you about this for sometime. It really goes to the journalistic line between reporter and blogger. BUT I can’t help but agree with Anon. Are you a journalist or an airline enthusiast who writes about the industry? Frankly it doesn’t matter which one you consider yourself because it’s what readers and most importantly… Read more »
Bill O
Guest
I worked for CO for over 15 years. It is common for the hubs to take out availability during irregular operations like big weather disruptions. Or, they’ll “fill” up the planes with double bookings to ensure the connections make it. If the passengers make the original flights, the bookings cancel and wallah – open seats. That Frontier agent may have been telling the truth about the seats. I’ve flown them a few times out of Los Angeles Intl. and they’ve always been great to me with good attitudes and service. I wonder if those agents normally worked until 2A –… Read more »
Ben
Guest
Hi all, I’m way late to this thread, but I am responding in after discovering Bill O’s comment via a Google search. I am not allowed to take freebies from airlines, and the Emirates flight you reference was not a freebie. Actually, I’ve never flown on Emirates — though I was at JFK for as Emirates’ first-ever flight to the U.S landed there. After it pulled to the gate, I was given a tour of the cabin — but was chased off shortly thereafter so the plane could be cleaned and turned for its return to Dubai. Simply put, I… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Ben does this mean you google your name to see who’s talking about you. :-) When I used to work in the office reps were always coming in with lunch, giving little (logo) items, nice gifts, etc to us. And while I knew they were trying to be nice so we think of their company first, not once did I ever use one company over the other because they brought in lunch or gave me anything. That’s not how every day life works. I think there was a time in life that people could be ‘bought’ by freebies, but now… Read more »
Terry
Guest
Its good to see that you realigned your opinion on whether the agent lied to you or not. Afterall its fundamental to the whole experience you received from my favourite low-cost American airline. At the top of the blog in response to ‘Dan’ posing the question you said just two words: “They lied.” The point I’m making is that in the cold light of day we are able to reassess our opinions and in many respects mellow our judgements. Its good to see you’ve done it on this occasion. Maybe it would have been prudent to think through your thoughts… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
I do have to agree with others that have said things can change quickly with airline availability. From working at one I know you could look and see things sold out and 10 minutes later there is space. People cancel or change, groups cancel or change, etc so it happens. The ‘zeroing’ out of space (blocking space) is common when there is a problem like weather, it gives the local station some breathing room to get people moving again. If the agent at LAX wasn’t very helpful with information, it might be it was blocked for her to see. But… Read more »
gobybyke
Guest
What is everyones obsession with the LAX gate agent? I’ve worked in the airlines for 8 years and currently at Frontier and I can tell you that if you come to me normal day or irop day i am going to be calm, accomadating, and do the best job i can. If you go to the lady working beside me she is undertrained and self entitled, she has lied, mis informed, and bailed out on lovely things such as cargo and FF tickets on a daily basis. So yes, it does happen! The airlines aren’t what they used to be,… Read more »
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