Less than two weeks after its return to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the Midwest Airlines brand is going away again – this time for good.
Midwest’s parent company, Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings Inc. said Tuesday that it would phase out the Midwest Airlines name and change the banner to that of another Republic holding, Frontier Airlines. Republic purchased Milwaukee-based Midwest and Denver-based Frontier in separate deals last year.
Republic (Nasdaq: RJET) will continue to provide the two daily round-trip flights between Milwaukee and RDU, with the art and logos on the planes and marketing material changing from Midwest to Frontier sometime over the next 12 to 18 months.
Midwest Airlines provided service between RDU and Milwaukee until 2008, when the brand shut down the route due to high fuel costs. and exited RDU altogether. Republic then boughtMidwest and resurrected the RDU-Milwaukee flights.
Republic revealed details of the long-awaited brand merger Tuesday morning during a press conference at the Midwest Airlines’ maintenance hangar at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.
“It’s been a tough call. It was made on hard facts,” Republic Airways Holdings Inc. CEO Bryan Bedford said of the decision.
Long touted as Milwaukee’s “hometown” airline, Midwest Airlines, which previously operated as Midwest Express, was incorporated in 1983. The airline had its corporate headquarters in Oak Creek, Wis., but jobs have been moved out of the facility in recent months and the building soon will be empty after call center operations are moved to office space at a hangar at Mitchell.
The Frontier name had always been the front-runner among airline industry observers because Frontier was the larger, more recognizable airline. Its tail-fin animals have attracted passionate fans for the carrier. With the decision, Bedford said the airline was adding a badger, Wisconsin’s state animal, to its animal lineup.
Midwest, on the other hand, is just a shadow of its “best care in the air” brand identity. Midwest built its reputation by offering business travelers an array of unique amenities, including complimentary gourmet meals, wine and champagne, wide leather seats and baked-on-board chocolate chip cookies. Nearly all of those amenities, with the exception of the cookies, have disappeared over the past decade or so due to the airline’s on-again, off-again financial struggles.
The Midwest brand, however, is not going to be fully retired. Cookies will remain offered on flights, Bedford said. The cookie, he said, transcends economics.
“This airline is now bigger and stronger, with an immense opportunity for sustainable, profitable growth in Milwaukee, Denver and across our network,” Bedford said. “We are launching service to new destinations out of our Milwaukee and Denver hubs and we are adding more jobs in the communities we serve.”
The 2010 growth includes 10 new destinations out of the Denver hub and five new destinations out of the Milwaukee hub, including RDU, Republic said in a press release. As a result, the carrier will grow by 7 percent in seat miles this year, three times the industry average. Additionally, the company employs more than 5,700 aviation professionals across its branded network with 1,200 employees in Milwaukee and 4,100 employees in Denver, with more to come as Frontier’s expansion continues.
The company said that it has set “a very aggressive integration timeline of 12-18 months.” Republic intends to integrate the customer experience and cultivate the attributes that will set Frontier Airlines apart in the industry. A Web site has been developed to communicate with the public throughout this process at FrontierMidwest.com. The site will include a timeline of all the major milestones that the company will achieve throughout the integration, including the move to one Web site, one frequent flier program and the implementation of new product attributes.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done in integrating these two carriers,” said Ian Arthur, Republic’s vice president of marketing and branding. “Throughout this process we will keep an open ear to our customers’ wants and needs. We appreciate your patience and support as we continue to develop an airline that treats our customers with respect, and will strive to provide those little things that make all the difference in our guests’ travel experience.”