Midwest Airlines (formerly Midwest Express) was a U.S.-based airline and was also an operating brand of Republic Airways Holdings based in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. operating from Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport. On April 13, 2010, parent company Republic announced that Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines will merge, with the Midwest brand disappearing in the fall of 2011. Midwest Airlines was largely known for its Signature Service all business class seating arrangement, which included leather seats arranged 2-by-2 and iconic fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies.
In early 2008 the airline's publicly traded parent Midwest Air Group was taken over by the private investment firm TPG Capital with a minority investment by Northwest Airlines (now part of Delta Air Lines). The new owners halted airline operations by Midwest's Skyway Airlines subsidiary and contracted out all Midwest Connect flights. Skyway went on to provide ground services for Midwest flights.
On June 23, 2009, Republic Airways acquired Midwest Airlines for $31 million.
Midwest Airlines' final flight operated with a Boeing 717 and staffed with Midwest Airlines flight crews landed in Milwaukee on November 2, 2009. Effective November 3, 2009, Midwest Airlines ceased to exist as an actual operating airline (allowing its DOT air carrier operator certificate to lapse). However, the airline continued to operate using the same branding, livery and a very similar route structure. Flights were operated by Republic Airlines and Frontier Airlines flightcrews. The Milwaukee hub and base was maintained along with the Kansas City hub. A new focus city was started in Omaha.
Midwest Airlines began life in 1948, when Kimberly-Clark began providing air transportation for company executives and engineers between the company's Neenah, Wisconsin headquarters and their mills. Early employee shuttle destinations included Chicago O'Hare, Memphis, and Atlanta's Fulton County Airport.
In 1969, K-C Aviation was born from this, and was dedicated to the maintenance of corporate aircraft.
In 2002, the airline made another major change, shortening its name from Midwest Express to simply Midwest. A major reason for the change was the modern association of 'express' with a regional airline, which Midwest was not. At the same time, Midwest's commuter airline subsidiary changed its name from Skyway Airlines, the Midwest Express Connection, to Midwest Connect. In a move to save money on jet fuel, the airline accelerated the replacement of DC-9 aircraft with the Boeing 717. On May 23, 2006, Midwest Airlines accepted one of the last two Boeing 717s delivered in a ceremony with AirTran Airways, who accepted the other 717. Midwest also announced that select MD-80 aircraft would leave the fleet.
In May 2005, Midwest announced a new buy-on-board meal service for customers. The new program was a change from the previous 'In-flight Cafe' and featured chefs and inspiration from the renowned Mader's restaurant. Chocolate chip cookies are baked on the plane and served warm.
Midwest became the largest longstanding operation at Mitchell Airport and served 21 cities non-stop (serving San Antonio only through Kansas City), while their regional partner Skyway Airlines, operating as Midwest Connect, served nearly 30 destinations throughout the Central United States. In the late 1990s, Midwest built a secondary hub at Kansas City International Airport, where nonstop service was operated to 13 cities across the country.
On May 17, 2007, Midwest Airlines signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Northwest Airlines to form a codeshare agreement with them. The codeshare agreement added 250 city pairs and 1,000 new flight options for Midwest Airlines customers. Northwest routes that include the Midwest Airlines YX code are destinations beyond Northwest's hubs at Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Memphis throughout the United States and Canada. Midwest placed its code on Northwest flights from Indianapolis, a Northwest focus city. Additionally, Midwest's code appears on a number of Northwest-operated flights to Hawaii and Alaska. Routes operated by Midwest Airlines that carry the NW Northwest code are flights that connect at Midwest's Milwaukee and Kansas City hubs, as well as Omaha -- a Midwest focus city. Northwest also codeshares on Midwest Airlines-operated flights between Milwaukee and Kansas City to Atlanta, Boston, Hartford, Los Angeles and San Francisco that connect to the Northwest/KLM trans-Atlantic network and trans-Pacific network.
Midwest has won more awards for exceptional service in Condé Nast Traveler Magazine than any other U.S. airline, although it has not won an award from Conde Nast Traveler since it ceased to be an independent company.
On May 29, 2007, Midwest announced the next phase of the company's strategic plan, which will offer customers the choice of Signature and Saver seating on all flights. The dual-seating option was previously available on its Boeing 717 fleet, which have since been returned to Boeing. The same amenities provided to all passengers on either aircraft, including leather seats.
In December 2006, AirTran Holdings Inc. -- owner of AirTran Airways -- made public that in December 2005 it had approached the Board of Directors of Midwest Air Group—owner of Midwest Airlines and Midwest Connect—and had asked the board to negotiate a sale of the company. That AirTran offer in 2005 was rebuffed by Midwest's board, which also rebuffed a second offer in late 2006. In December 2006, AirTran disclosed the rejection of both offers in hopes of bringing shareholder pressure on Midwest's board to reconsider, which the board recommended that shareholders reject.
On August 12, 2007, it was announced that AirTran had lost the bid for Midwest. A private equity group, headed by TPG Capital and including Northwest Airlines, purchased Midwest and turned the airline into a privately funded company. The inclusion of Northwest in the investing partners required anti-trust review from the United States Department of Justice, which reviews all airline mergers.
On August 14, 2007, AirTran increased its offer to the equivalent of $16.25 a share, slightly more than the $16 a share from TPG Capital investors group. However, Midwest announced TPG would increase its offer to $17 per share and a definitive agreement had been reached late on August 16, 2007.
On August 17, 2007 TPG and Northwest Airlines finalized their bid for Midwest with the final offer of $17 per share and a total deal of $450 million.
On February 1, 2008, Midwest Air Group announced that the US Department of Justice had cleared the acquisition of Midwest by TPG Capital and Northwest. This finalized the acquisition; trading of Midwest Air Group on the American Stock Exchange ceased at the end of the trading day on January 31, 2008, and stockholders in Midwest received the agreed-upon $17 per share. This ended the independent existence of Midwest Airlines.
In accordance with the rest of the airline industry during the oil price increases since 2003, Midwest Airlines was forced to cut back services. To do this, Midwest Airlines announced their intent to ground the twelve remaining McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jets in its fleet. According to the company, the MD-80 "is a very fuel inefficient airplane and at the cost of fuel today it's just become economically infeasible to operate these planes." The MD-80s, and the crews that operated them, left Midwest in fall of 2008.
TPG Capitals Midwest Air Group failed to pay a $3.3 million receivable due the outsourced regional airline replacement for Skyway Airlines which previously d/b/a as Midwest Connect. SkyWest was due the amount by June 30, 2008 forcing SkyWest Airlines to record a full reserve and corresponding reduction in revenue during the second quarter.
Additional changes were announced on September 3, 2008, when the airline announced that it had raised $60 million from TPG, Northwest Airlines, and Republic Airways Holdings. As part of the outsourcing deal, Republic Airlines is operating 12 Embraer 170 aircraft under the Midwest Airlines brand, though Midwest has the option to convert the aircraft into a long-term lease and operate them directly. The airline also reached an agreement with Boeing Capital to return 16 Boeing 717s, leaving it with a fleet of 9 aircraft.
On September 3, 2008, Midwest Airlines announced its plan to outsource all of its flight operations to Republic Airways. Republic will operate 12 new 76-seat Embraer 170 jets under the Midwest Connect name while Midwest will return all of its 25 Boeing 717 planes under a lease renegotiation. While this change caused the additional layoffs bringing the total of pink-slipped Midwest pilots to nearly 300 and total employee cuts for the year to 1,850 , Midwest indicates that it hopes to begin operating these new planes itself with Midwest crews in 8–12 months. Some Midwest pilots claim they have been told privately that Midwest, in fact, does not plan to seek the needed regulatory approvals to operate the new planes itself.
The Midwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association launched a campaign protesting the Midwest outsourcing plan shortly after it was announced. They argue that the pilots have already made significant concessions to help Midwest Airlines survive and that the company's new contract offers represent draconian demands.
Midwest Airlines' frequent flyer program is called Midwest Miles. They maintain one airport lounge, the Best Care Club at their Milwaukee hub in the D Concourse.
While Midwest is not a member of any airline alliance, Midwest Miles were redeemable in the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program, and vice versa. As of 2006, Northwest route maps showed Midwest as a partner airline and Northwest (now Delta) pulled its non-hub flights out of Milwaukee.
Midwest Miles is unusual in that it had links to the Amtrak program. Midwest Miles members could transfer blocks of 5,000 miles (8,000 km), up to a maximum of 25,000 miles per year to Amtrak's program. Amtrak points can be used for travel on Amtrak and Continental Airlines.
A defining feature of the airline is the chocolate chip cookies baked on the planes and served near the end of flights. The airline began serving the cookies after a former employee experimented with different snacks on an empty leg of a charter flight.
The cookie was featured in Midwest advertisements, such as the "savethecookie" campaign in opposition to the proposed and failed AirTran takeover. The cookie is served during professional baseball games at Kauffman Stadium, as well as Bucks basketball and Admirals hockey games at Milwaukee's Bradley Center.
The cookie will outlive the brand as it is now served on Frontier Airlines flights. The Midwest Brand cookie dough at Sendik's Food Markets in the Milwaukee area will be branded as Frontier cookie dough.