Can’t Wait for the Return of Midwest Express? Too Bad, It’s Delayed

Takeoff for this beloved Milwaukee-based airline continues to be delayed.

Air travelers are going to have to wait a while longer for Midwest Express’ beloved baked-on-board chocolate chip cookies. Midwest Express President Greg Aretakis announced Friday that the airline’s return to the skies is being delayed until the end of the first quarter of 2020.

The airline initially had announced that it had hoped to begin flying before the end of this year. Aretakis then said during a speech at the International Business Associated of Wisconsin meeting in November that Midwest’s first flights would take off early in the new year.

Yet another change in plans means an even longer delay.

“We planned to have our commercial infrastructure completed by year-end, but due to the upcoming holidays and advanced planning needs of our customers, we expect to announce schedules, pricing and initial flights near the end of first quarter 2020,” Aretakis says in a statement issued Friday. “We thank the community for its continued interest and support, and we look forward to serving our customers in the new year.”

Midwest plans to offer nonstop flights from Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, which will serve as its home base, to three initial destinations: Cincinnati; Omaha, Nebraska; and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Midwest has identified all three cities as common destinations for Milwaukee area business travelers.

Midwest Express’ focus is expected to be on providing service on underserved business routes.

Flight operations will be provided by Portland, Maine-based Elite Airways, which is supporting Midwest’s efforts to pursue regulatory and operational requirements necessary for Midwest to obtain its own airline operating certificate and aircraft.

A private offering was filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in May 2018, allowing Midwest Express to secure investors and begin implementing its plans to relaunch the airline in Milwaukee. Midwest stepped up fundraising, with a goal of $6 million to $8 million from local investors before the end of this past summer.

In April, Midwest Express signed a lease for space at MKE Regional Business Park near the airport for its corporate headquarters.

The reformed airline is being led by Aretakis, who previously served as vice president of planning and revenue management for Midwest, working under CEO Tim Hoeksema, a pilot who led the transformation of Midwest Express into a commercial airline in 1984.

Midwest built its reputation on unique offerings for its customers, including cushy seats arranged two-by-two on each side of the aisle, gourmet meals served on fancy dishes, wine, champagne and, perhaps most memorably, the chocolate chip cookies, which the airline plans to bring back once it starts flying again.

Marketed as Milwaukee’s hometown airline, Midwest flew high, enjoying a market share of more than 50 percent at Mitchell International Airport in mid-2008. Economic turbulence and massive industry changes led to its demise shortly afterward.

The airline, which also operated as Midwest Airlines, fought off a hostile takeover attempt by AirTran Airways in 2007, but just three years later the treasured Midwest brand would all but disappear after being absorbed by Denver-based Frontier Airlines as part of a merger orchestrated by the airlines’ corporate parent, Republic Airways Holdings.

The planned relaunch of Midwest Express has generated significant buzz among the flying public but starting a new airline is fraught with challenges that has led to some skepticism.

Airline observers have outlined the many challenges Midwest Express faces in trying to bring the airline back to life, including an intensely competitive industry that is labor intensive and generates relatively low margins, as well as the need for significant financial investment.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.