George Orwell’s famous 1945 novel, Animal Farm, is a classic. The premise of the book is basically to show how indifference, ignorance, greed and shortsightedness corrupted the Stalin-era Russian revolution.
Fade to 2012. That same indifference, ignorance, greed and shortsightedness has caused Milwaukee’s own Animal Farm reach near extinction.
Of course I’m talking about Frontier Airlines.
We should have known there would be trouble when Frontier made us part of their Animal Farm in 2010 and had a contest to name a new animal that would grace the tail of their planes. It would be a Badger, in honor of Frontier taking over what was and will always be Milwaukee’s airline legacy, Midwest Airlines.
The winning name was Buddy. Not Bucky. Buddy. Bad. Boring. Blech. With 86 flights a day out of Mitchell at the time, I’m sure we all sat on the edge of our seats to waiting to see Buddy fly into Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to see Buddy’s likeness on the tail of a Frontier jet dwindles with every passing day. We’re just as likely to see Foxy the Fox, Jack the Rabbit, Larry the Lynx, Hector the Otter, Sal the Cougar, Grizwald the Bear, Flip the Bottle Nosed Dolphin – I’m not making these up, see for yourself here – and 60 some-odd others in Milwaukee. Really.
And if you look closer, there is another animal in the Frontier menagerie – an albatross… aka the Frontier Airlines Center. Frontier has a contract, which has another year to run, in which it pays Milwaukee $500,000 a year for the rights to use their name on the facility. A quick cost-benefit analysis says that $500,000 for seven flights a day might not be really worth it, and this has some people worried that the airline won’t pay the bill. Frontier is in a cash crunch and has been paying that fee on a month-to-month basis.
Franklyn Gimbel, the chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Board that oversees the convention center, recently said that the Board was discussing whether to request proposals for a new naming-rights deal. Ya think?
Forgetting the forgettable animals for a second, the impact of Frontier’s flight reductions here has a multi-pronged influence.
· First and foremost, there are the jobs: 219 cut last year, then 129 earlier this year. That’s a lot of people out of work.
· Second, we as travelers can go fewer places direct from Milwaukee, so air travel is far less convenient.
· Third, there is less competition on routes, and we’re starting to see fares rise in response. Again not a good thing for passengers.
· Fourth, back to the convention center, fewer direct flights to Milwaukee makes the city and the convention center less attractive to organizations looking for places to hold meetings and conventions. Bad for the overall economy.
· Finally, we’re no longer a hub city. In an article in the April 30 Journal Sentinel, airline industry consultant Jay Sorensen said: "When a hub begins to spool down, it kind of falls apart rapidly. So what you're seeing is Milwaukee is being reduced to having nonstop markets that are really large, such as New York and Orlando, that can stand on their own merits… and of course flights to hubs.” And virtually nowhere else.
What’s left for Milwaukee? We could fold up our tent and let Frontier’s virtual departure reduce us to a lower tier destination. Can you say Peoria?
Better yet, Southwest and AirTran (same company) have the opportunity to expand here, which would be good for destinations but not for prices. The best thing would be to have the powers that be, who seem all caught up in renaming the Bradley Center, begin courting an airline like Jet Blue or Virgin Airways. That would add another carrier and put competition back on some of the routes Frontier abandoned.
The bottom line is we are seeing the result of a bad strategy by a bad management team at a badly managed company. Just over two years ago, Frontier was bragging they were going to double the amount of employees they had in Milwaukee. Where are they now?
So Frontier, I have a suggestion for an animal to add to the menagerie, one that would fit your business philosophy, one that would reflect how you’ve treated Milwaukee, one that says all that needs to be said about your sorry airline.
Wally the Weasel.
Follow me on Twitter: @jpalmer7890