SkyWest to Start Flying for AirTran in Milwaukee

AirTran, Midwest Airlines, MKE - Milwaukee, SkyWest

You cheeseheads may still be hurting from your second Favre-related beatdown this year, but you can rejoice that you now have yet another airline coming to town. SkyWest (yes, the regional airline) will begin flying for AirTran in Milwaukee.

It’s very clear that this is happening because of the AirTran deal, but it’s not your traditional regional contract. Then again, it’s not exactly the “innovative” and “groundbreaking” contract that these guys are proclaiming it is. This has been done before many times. The airplanes will say SkyWest on them, but you’ll have to go to AirTran to book. It’s a lot like the deal they had with Delta back in the day.

AirTran and SkyWest Deal in Milwaukee

You may remember that SkyWest was flying as Midwest Connect until Republic came in and booted them out. Like most airlines, SkyWest has more 50 seat jets lying around than they need, so they figured they could just put them back into use on routes they know and love. Only now, they’ll get passengers from AirTran instead of Midwest.

The 50 seaters will fly from Milwaukee to Akron/Canton (Jan 5), Des Moines (Feb 11), Indianapolis (Jan 5), Omaha (Feb 11), Pittsburgh (Dec 4), and St Louis (Dec 4). All of those are Midwest markets except for Akron/Canton, which is a big airport for AirTran. Nice.

Some of you may remember AirTran’s last effort to use 50 seat jets. Back in 2002, they signed a deal with Air Wisconsin to fly as AirTran Jet Connect. That ended in 2004 when the airline realized 50 seat jets didn’t make much money. Some are already saying that this won’t work this time around, but this is a totally different model. This will work out just fine for AirTran, though SkyWest might not be as thrilled.

Before, it was a capacity purchase agreement which meant that AirTran bought the seats to resell under their own name and Air Wisconsin received a guaranteed profit. Now, it’s a prorate agreement. SkyWest is flying these routes at its own risk and AirTran gets to share in the revenue. So SkyWest has a big burden here while AirTran has none.

If you listen to the AirTran pilots, this is the end of the world. Their press release says “Outsourcing: Bad for Business.” Hmm, not so sure about that. They do say that AirTran passengers expect to be flown on AirTran planes and that means XM Radio, wireless internet, and business class. Hmm, maybe, but they aren’t going to get that from Milwaukee to these cities.

Granted, Pittsburgh, Indy, and St Louis have mainline service from AirTran right now, so this tells me that those flights are really weak. It’s either a 50 seater that has a shot at making money or no service at all. I’d say it’s good for business with that perspective.

I suppose it’s AirTran’s fault that the pilots are responding this way. Back when they discontinued JetConnect, AirTran said they “could operate the Boeing 717 more efficiently than the Canadair regional jets in short-haul markets.” They may have thought that sounded good at the time, but now the AirTran pilots want them to stand by that statement.

Unfortunately for the pilots, that’s just not true. When AirTran started JetConnect, they served three cities – Pensacola, Greensboro, and Savannah. Only Pensacola is still served by AirTran today. I guess those 717s didn’t work out as well as they hoped on those lighter routes.

In my mind, this comes down to just a couple of things. SkyWest has a bunch of 50 seaters lying around and is desperate to find a home for them. AirTran wants to continue to put the squeeze on Midwest in Milwaukee. Combine the two and, voila, you have a plan.

Will this work? If I had to place bets, I’d guess no, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. If I’m AirTran, I love this deal since I have absolutely no risk and I get to strengthen my network out of Milwaukee. If I’m SkyWest, well, it’s the best I can get right now, and that’s scary.

[Updated 11/5 @ 809s to clarify that this won’t be sold under the SkyWest code]

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

15 comments on “SkyWest to Start Flying for AirTran in Milwaukee

  1. Given how easy it is for an Airtran elite to upgrade at the gate most of the time, most Airtran customers don’t expect to have business class. In fact, most Airtran customers don’t expect to have advance seat assignments! (Or at least, it’s a decision they make at the booking stage of their trip, whether to pony up.)

    What’s more, the people with much of an ‘expectation’ for what Airtran offers are in Atlanta.. maybe Orlando… a few other cities where Airtran has a signifcant presence. There isn’t much of a brand in Milwaukee, it’s not clear what RJs are diluting in that regard.

    Is this better for Skywest than parking the RJs in the desert? Who knows. Selfishly I’d sure love to see these planes displace some of the Mesa RJs flown for UA at IAD though…

  2. As the saying goes, ‘You never know until you try’.

    The AirTran pilots say “Outsourcing: Bad for Business.” as they think AirTran should fly it’s own planes and pilots on those routes. Well if AirTran thought they could make a lot of money doing it, I would think they would be. Would the AirTran pilots rather have Skywest fly those routes and see how it goes, or have AirTran try it which may mean hiring more pilots and it it fails then have to layoff those pilots.

    The mainline pilots always look at it as loosing jobs for their pilots when a carrier brings on a ‘Skywest’ type partner. They never see it as the mainline carrier wouldn’t fly those routes in the first place so there is no ‘job’ loss. And they never think of it as the smaller ‘Skywest’ type partner could bring in more traffic with their smaller planes and could give the mainline pilots more work that they wouldn’t have in the first place.

    Are pilots ever satisfied with anything?

    OFF TOPIC: Cranky did you see in yesterday USA Today in the Sky chat line that when Ben Mutzabaugh was asked what blog sites he likes, he said he likes reading Crankyflier. “In the meantime, I love reading The Cranky Flier’s perspective……”

    OK guys how about a Cranky interviews Ben and a Ben interviews Cranky segment on each of your sites. :-)

    So if you’re reading this today….Hi Ben

  3. Who would have thought that Milwaukee would ever experience so much aviation talk (with the Midwest sale, the increased service by AirTran and the new service by Southwest).

  4. @ David SFeastbay:

    David, you make a generalization that mixes apples and oranges a bit. While in this particular example, the regional partner is flying routes that would not be flown by the mainline carrier, that’s not always the case.

    We’re seeing more and more examples of mainline carriers replacing their aircraft and pilots on routes with regional partners. So, I don’t think you can generalize the way you do that pilots should never be upset or worried about job security. I’ve watched mainline UA service all but disappear in SLC. They’ve gone completely regional to LAX, SFO and ORD, and about 70% regional to DEN. I guess one could argue that this is just in lieu of UA dropping SLC service altogether, but I’m not sure that argument would hold water in this case.

  5. I hope that Air Tran/skywest give a good look at ATW or GRB. Our airfares are very high. Access directly to MKE and Air Tran would be great.

  6. Its quite interesting. I wonder if we’ll start to see the traditional branded express operator break back down to the even older regional operator in conjunction with the express operator…

  7. @ CF:

    By keeping the planes in Skywest colors that is what the public will see in their minds. So if AirTran decides to drop a flight/route/city the public wouldn’t see it as a AirTran (logo) plane going away but the Skywest plane going away. That could be good for AirTran if all this doesn’t work out for them.

  8. @ Hunter:

    True, but like you said it’s hard to judge as the mainline carriers could just drop a city but this way there is still a feed. The mainline planes/crews could be used else where so it doesn’t always mean a job loss, just moving the larger planes to different markets.

  9. If this is Skywest’s best alternative for their unemployed RJs, it says something terribly, terribly sobering about Skywest’s prospects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier