Last updated on August 30th, 2019 at 02:04 pm
The resurrected Midwest Express Airlines showed off its first new airplane and announced its initial flight destinations at a press conference Wednesday at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.
The airline plans to launch service by the end of the year, offering nonstop flights from Milwaukee to three initial destinations: Cincinnati; Omaha, Nebraska and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Midwest Express Airlines president Greg Aretakis, who was vice president of market planning for Midwest Airlines from 2005-09, is working with his partners Rick Kummerow, treasurer of Midwest Express Airlines, and Tony Intravaia, vice president of finance and administration of Midwest Express, to relaunch the airline brand.
An announcement about an official launch date could occur in the next four to six weeks, Aretakis said. More flight details and information about fares will be announced at that time, he said.
Aretakis said the high level of customer service that the original Midwest Express brand was known for will be an important part of the revitalized airline.
“A lot of people remember a lot of different things (about the original Midwest Express). What everyone starts talking about is the exceptional customer service. Our Midwest style,” he said. “We have people on our team who were part of the original Midwest (Express), who built that customer service training and employee selection. We are going to bring that back. That’s a top priority.”
Originally known as Midwest Express, Midwest Airlines was based in Oak Creek and had its main hub at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. Midwest Airlines was acquired by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings in 2009, it was merged into Denver-based Frontier Airlines and in 2011 the Midwest Airlines brand was eliminated. Midwest Express and Midwest Airlines had a loyal customer base, especially Milwaukee area business travelers that appreciated its wide leather seats and its signature warm chocolate chip cookies.
Milwaukee travelers who remain loyal to the Midwest Express brand also miss some of the direct flight service that the airline provided here, Aretakis said.
“(Besides customer service) the second thing that we hear the most (about why people miss Midwest Express) is, ‘I hate making a connection in Detroit or Chicago, or some other place. We want nonstop flights,'” he said. “We used to fly 150 nonstop flights a day out of Milwaukee. There are many destinations that have never gotten that service (back). Nonstop flights are a really big thing.”
The Midwest Express flights will be offered on 50-seat Bombardier CRJ 200 aircraft, including the plane on display at the press conference on Wednesday.
“The nice thing about the airplane, for the kind of routes we’re starting on, it’s exactly what we want,” Aretakis said. “We were seeking out a partner airline that operated this airplane type.”
In August, Midwest Express announced that it was partnering with Portland, Maine-based Elite Airways LLC. Elite Airways will operate the initial aircraft and provide flight crews and maintenance service for Midwest Express. Midwest Express will establish its own reservations system, customer service operations and in-flight amenities to support its flights.
“(Elite Airways) are great operators,” Aretakis said. “We’re excited to share them with our hometown people here in Milwaukee.”
“When Greg first approached us about working together, we looked at everything and we thought, ‘What an incredible match this would be,'” said John Pearsall, president of Elite Airways. “The customer service philosophy that Elite Airways has, coupled with the fabulous expertise at Midwest Express and what they’ve done with the community in the past has just been unbelievable. We think it’s going to be a great partnership.”
When asked how the in-flight seating experience on the new Midwest Express will compare to the original, Aretakis said, “We have leather seats on this airplane, they have extended legroom.” However, “the big seats (that Midwest Express used to have) frankly, they’re a good idea, but they’re not a today idea.”
Passengers on the new Midwest Express will not be charged fees for bags or additional services, Aretakis said.
“One of our hallmarks will be no fees,” he said. “The way the airline business used to be, you buy your ticket and you get all of the components as a part of that. We’ll have complimentary snacks, and we’ll have cookies.”
After the press conference, Midwest Express representatives handed out free chocolate chip cookies to people at the airport. The cookies were an iconic symbol of the level of service provided by the original Midwest Express and will be provided to passengers of flights of the revitalized airline.
“When we ask people (who want so see Midwest Express make a comeback) what are the things that really matter to you, (they say) it’s customer service, it’s convenience in terms of the flights, and the cookies,” Aretakis said.
As for future destinations, Aretakis said when he talks to Milwaukee business leaders, “everybody has a route they want us to fly. We’re not starving for ideas.” Midwest Express plans to add more destinations in time, he said.
“When we started talking about the idea of bringing back a brand called Midwest Express, we asked people, ‘Do you still have a need for these destinations?’ As we started getting, for lack of a better word, a survey of various destinations, these places (Grand Rapids, Omaha and Cincinnati) kept on popping to the top of the list,” Aretakis said.
Midwest Express still needs to complete a few steps before it can launch service, Aretakis said. The company is hiring more employees and is building its reservation system. Once those steps are complete the company will announce when it will start taking flight reservations, he said.
“We have lots of jobs (to fill), whether it’s customer service, sales, various analytical or financial (positions). We have a lot of jobs,” Aretakis said. “Hundreds” of former Midwest Express/Midwest Airlines employee have called seeking a job with the new airline, he said.
Midwest Express will probably use gates in Concourse D at Mitchell International, but no lease for the gates has been signed yet, said airport spokesman Harold Mester.
The airline has had significant interest from investors and has raised enough capital to move forward with launching the business, Aretakis said. Last year the company said it hoped to raise $6 million to $8 million over the next 12 months.
“All of our investors today are from Wisconsin,” he said. “This is a Wisconsin-based company…we’re moving forward. The airplane is here as a testament to that.”
See more about the return of Midwest Express in this report from WISN-TV Channel 12, a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.