The Last Piece of Midwest Airlines is Passed to Delta

Delta, Frontier, Midwest Airlines

The long, drawn out, sad saga of Midwest Airlines and its famous cookie has now finally come to a close. Though the airline’s name disappeared a few years ago, the last remaining vestiges of the airline are now gone. Frontier, the heir to Midwest’s legacy, realizes this and is actually doing something quite interesting. It’s partnering with Delta to make the process a little less painful for frequent fliers in Midwest’s former Wisconsin home. Consider it a parting gift to the loyal cheeseheads who flew the airline for many years.

We don’t need to rehash the long death spiral of Midwest here, do we? You can read old posts, or you can just read this mostly accurate (but not quite) graphical depiction of the last few years.

The Death of Midwest is Complete

The inaccuracy of the above is about the actual players. For example, while Northwest didn’t buy Midwest, it partnered with TPG to do it. But the point is made. Midwest and whatever is left of its assets have been bounced around like ping pong balls over the last few years. If Midwest’s management team was smart, it should have sold out to AirTran but hey, we can’t turn back time.

I’ve declared Midwest dead so many times that it’s starting to sound like the boy who cried wolf. But really, now we’re just talking about scraps today anyway. And the final cookie crumbs are going to be gone soon enough. There are two things happening.

First, over the last month, Frontier shut down most of its Milwaukee flights. There are now only 4 daily flights to Frontier’s hub in Denver, something that would have undoubtedly existed without the Midwest merger. There is also 1 daily flight to Washington DC and a three times weekly flight to Orlando.

Oh, and there are still a couple daily flights to Rhinelander, which was supposed to be moved to Great Lakes, but maybe that hasn’t been worked out yet. It will be gone soon enough, I’m sure. So there really is nothing left.

Realizing that this was the case, Frontier decided to try to set its frequent fliers free. While I imagine most of the Midwest loyalists jumped ship long ago as Milwaukee routes kept getting cut further and further, they all still had something tethering them to Frontier – miles. But this week, Frontier has come up with a very generous offer that will cut that cord for good.

Wisconsin residents have until the end of August to decide if they’d like to transfer all their miles over to Delta. Delta is the heir to the historical Northwest loyalty in the region thanks to the merger between the two. So there is already a decent base of Delta fliers there, and this will allow them to consolidate their miles into the Delta program. If they’re elite with Frontier, they’ll get a status challenge to allow them to keep status on Delta as well.

This is a really nice thing that Frontier is doing that it didn’t have to do. But I’m really curious to know who is getting the money in this transaction. You would think that Frontier wouldn’t bother with something like this except for the fact that those miles sit on the balance sheet as a liability. Since people in the area aren’t going to be likely to burn their miles anytime soon with so few flights, this is a good way to get those miles off the books. But would Delta pay for this? Usually Delta would get money from someone for buying the miles, but this is a nice little strategic move for the airline.

For Delta, it helps to lock people in who might not have had loyalty to the airline before. If ex-Midwest loyalists were thinking about flying Southwest/AirTran, this might be enough to entice them to stick with Delta instead. And Delta has been adding flights lately, so it’s not a bad plan for the airline.

Regardless of who gets the money, it’s a nice move that will at least give a little parting gift to those who stayed loyal to Midwest beyond its dying days.

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40 comments on “The Last Piece of Midwest Airlines is Passed to Delta

  1. You think we’ll ever see an airline like Midwest again? It seems like that airline was able to exist basically because of the DC-9: it was really easy to go from a (typical coach) 2×3 layout to a (all first class like) 2×2 layout, without having to worry too much about spreading around the costs of the planes since they were all older jets that were paid off (I remember being on one of their DC-9-10s not too many yeas ago)….

    It seems like all of the new RJs today are already engineered exactly for 4 across seating (in coach), and the bigger domestic jets are of course 3×3…

      1. An interesting point about the DC-9 but C-series IMO is too much airplane. Paying for coast to coast capability is not needed. E190 may be more like an ‘ideal MKE hub airplane’

    1. I don’t think this works anywhere anymore. People say they want service and comfort but then they buy the cheapest ticket. Any airplane that could make this model work could have lower costs with fewer seats. That’ll smoke the luxury airline every time, with schedules being equal.

  2. You think of it as a generous offer to customers, I think of it as a big “F you” to Southwest/AirTran. Sour grapes over what Southwest has done in DEN and what AirTran has done in MKE. Coupled with United’s actions, seems like airline CEOs are a testy bunch these days.

    Love the graphics – you are brilliant!

  3. Not a bad move at all. F9 has no love for WN with all the animosity at DEN so this not only gets the mileage liability off their books, but also makes an attempt to keep those former loyalists out of WN’s planes and on another airline. Given that UA is also part of the triumvirate in DEN they wouldn’t have been a target and DL has shown some intelligent management choices as of late with how they are playing with other airlines. I couldn’t imagine any other major with the possible exception of US doing a deal with WN for planes while WN is moving into that airlines main hub.

    Good for DL and good for F9.

  4. Only 1 flight left to DCA? I’m sure you saw this question coming from me but what happened to the rest of the slots F9 inherited from YX? IIRC they had at least 3, if not 4, MKE-DDCA flights so there should be some slots up for grabs. Did DL pick them up? Will they go out for rebid?

    1. Bill from DC – I’m not sure what happened. I assume they all got moved around and Frontier is using them for other reasons. I wonder if one slot is tied to Milwaukee for some reason or another and that’s why it’s still flying.

      1. Not that I’ve noticed. F9 always had 3 outside the perimeter exceptions to DEN. YX had built up a decent amount of service at DCA, including 3-4x to MKE, 2x to OMA and 2x to MCI that F9 assumed via the merger rules and continues to fly. If MKE is really down to 1x, there are some slots unaccounted for (unless the OMA and MCI frequencies were originally 1x and they upped each frequency but IIRC those had always been 2x).

        1. Whoops, just noticed there is now F9 daily to MSN from DCA. Makes sense as NW used to fly that for years, DL flew it then dropped it post slot swap and US did not pick it up after that. Hmmm, maybe F9 has reallocated some of the slots previously used for MKE.

  5. That is the best “history of Midwest” I’ve ever seen.

    Seems like a heck of a win for those with Frontier miles. Now they have a far bigger network for taking that reward trip. Too bad that they are sky pesos and it takes a million miles to go just about anywhere.

    1. I was hoping for the Cookie Monster to gobble up the cookie and the crumbs falling on a Delta jet. Or even better a magic machine that turns cookies into Biscoff :)

      DL is certainly paying for this as Frontier has no money to be nice.

  6. This is interesting since people can still use the miles to travel on Frontier even if it’s mostly to the western part of the USA. DL must be paying Frontier for this to try and get some loyal following they didn’t have before. What real reason would Frontier have for doing this if they were not getting money they need.

    I’ve never heard of an airline doing this when they pull out of a city, so why do it out of the kindness of your heart if you just cut back service. No, Frontier is getting something from DL for this.

  7. Midwest’s demise saddens me (of course, the “real” Midwest died years ago). I flew it between Phoenix and Milwaukee and loved it. It was also my late mother’s favorite airline. I like the idea of airlines that have unique service niches as opposed to the cookie cutter carriers (a little alliteration anyone?) we have now (one of the downsides of consolidation, but I digress …).

    I could be completely wrong, but it seems to me that the US Airways or Delta Shuttles could offer a “Midwest” type product (there are many downsides to this idea, of course, but dreaming is free). One of Amtrak’s draws is its bigger, more comfortable seats (back to wider seats, huh?). An all business class shuttle between some of the largest business centers n the U.S. might make a buck or two.

    1. DesertGhost – for a 30 to 45 minute flight? It’s not worth putting in unique seats that would be only on the shuttle. People spend a lot less time in the shuttle seat than they do on Amtrak.

        1. The luxury tran atlantic airlines were doomed mostly by fuel cost and lack of hub connections. Business class seating does well obviously, and shuffled into a handful of flights might sustain routes for a larger airline.

    2. Trouble is, save for the frequencies, there’s really no such thing as Shuttle service on US or DL anymore – the dedicated fleets are long gone, as are the days when they’d roll out another plane if one filled up or the days when you could buy your ticket onboard (the closest they get to that nowadays is dedicated ticketing areas at DCA that are next to security). Oh, and the days when you could walk up 5 minutes before the flight and get on.

  8. I too miss Midwest. I used to commute to LGA on Midwest express and loved it. But then 9/11 and the self-imposed decimation of the airline industry (again) and there was bound to be some fallout. Now I live in the Twin Cities and have my private pilot’s license (instrument rated) and I fly myself when I need to go someplace. No security checkpoints, no baggage fees, no screaming babies. Sure it’s a bit more work for me personally, but it makes flying into a rewarding experience rather than one to be endured.

  9. Yeah, RIP. I always loved the old Midwest Express. To me, the airline’s demise is proof that customers want cheap fares, not a quality product.

    1. Dan – They’re probably sitting empty. Milwaukee was blessed with WAY too much service as these guys fought it out over the last few years. I’m not sure what AirTran’s plan was, but I believe AirTran is on concourse C and Southwest is with Frontier on D. They could consolidate those. I would bet that they really don’t need C, D, and E anymore. One could go away.

  10. For me and my wife this was really sad news, we are bigger people and when flying to see my family in Illinois midwest was absolutely perfect due to bigger seats that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s frustrating to see that go away and now have to either pay a fortune or hope I can upgrade with airtran 24 hours before hand for 50 bucks.

  11. Midwest was profitable for many years because they focused tightly on serving business travelers well, business fares were very high, aircraft were cheap, and so was fuel. Their primary market was hard to penetrate because it wasn’t big enough to support the mainline jets competitors tried to compete with in MKE. Although the premium seating and service helped with business traveler loyalty, it *never* attracted many people willing to pay notably higher fares, even in the glory days. When people ask if Midwest’s business model would work in 2012, what they *think* Midwest’s business model was never worked. Every single other attempt at premium-service failed quickly — and there were many. There’s more truth than fiction to the assertion Midwest succeeded for close to 15 years *in spite of* the premium-service/coach fares model. The competition regional jets brought to MKE killed their monopoly pricing, which made profits much harder to get. But LCC competition and pricing was an absolute death knell.

    I have doubts that MKE would be in any better shape had Midwest sold out to AirTran.

    (1) The remarkable overpayment AirTran’s ego was offering to buy Midwest might well have crippled FL financially. AirTran brass made statements to that effect months after losing the bidding war, though it may have been them licking their wounds, of course.

    (2) What AirTran promised/proposed to do in Milwaukee after the purchase was stunningly absurd and would have lost huge money if they went through with it (CRJ’s to Wichita, multiple 717’s to Buffalo, White Plains, Rochester, Richmond, etc). Those sorts of losses, along with the crippling burden of the purchase itself, could have pushed AirTran into disasterous waters, or at very least could have lead to big MKE slashing.

    (3) With or without the Midwest purchase, AirTran would still have the attractive assets Southwest bought. Assuming Southwest would still find AirTran a good asset purchase, the same issues MKE faces with WN buying AirTran not would have happened if WN bought AirTran/YX. RJ’s would have to go. And the MKE hub as an east-west connecting point is redundant in the Soutwhest network.

    The one group which may have fared better are the emlpoyees, of course. But I don’t think MKE would be any better off had YX sold to FL. And YX sharholders certainly got a bigger payout by Midwest holding out for TPG’s larger bid over FL.

    Of course this is all speculation. But I’m not sure that there’s a reasonably plausible scenario where this turns out any better for Milwaukee and the core YX customer.

  12. I flew Midwest when ever I could out of LGA. I loved the customer service, the great seats and flying through less hectic hubs like MKE and MCI. (Needless to say, my kids liked flying the airline for one obvious reason.). This may be a stretch, but it seems like part of Midwest’s demise is the result of the laziness of American consumers simply going to the bigger name for a product because it takes less time than searching for a lesser known, but higher quality product. I looked forward to flying on Midwest but I dreaded flying on most other airlines.

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