Milwaukee may soon have a home-town airline again. Plans are apparently in the works to bring back Midwest Express, a brand that offered more comfort and more perks from its hub at Mitchell International Airport (MKE) until it was acquired by Republic Airways and eventually folded into Frontier Airlines. For a brief period of time the iconic fresh-baked cookie that Midwest was known for survived as part of Frontier’s service. That was short lived, however, as Frontier pivoted to the ULCC model flying today. Now a group of investors is seeking to bring back the brand and some of the passenger-friendly amenities it was known for, including spacious seating, friendly service and, of course, the cookies.
The new company is promising “convenient destinations for business travelers, roomy seats, WiFi and friendly people who care about you” plus schedules that facilitate same-day trips to many destinations. And, if the aircraft rendering on the webpage is to be believed, this will all come via CRJ-200 aircraft, perhaps the least passenger-friendly jet in commercial service today.
What made YX so great from a #PaxEx experience were the big 2×2 seats in mainline D9S/M83/712 equipment. Can that be replicated on a CR2?
— Justin Meyer (@JustinMeyerKC) August 9, 2017
The plane is cramped in a 2-2 layout, only 8′ 4″ across at the midline and 7′ 2″ at the floor. The windows are small and low relative to where passengers are sitting making it feel more cramped. It is not a comfortable ride. That said, the type was originally imagined as a business jet, a longer version of the Challenger CL-600. In that layout it can be far more comfortable. But the default version run by nearly every airline today, with 50 seats inside, is not very nice.
Of course, the new Midwest Express is promising “roomy seats” so it may run with a 1-2 layout or even 1-1 if they’re feeling ridiculously generous. But that also means significantly higher costs. And it isn’t like the RJs are particularly cheap to operate on a per seat mile basis anyways. Major airlines had a brief love affair with the 50-seat aircraft when labor costs were significantly lower for those planes, as was demand. But crew costs are rapidly increasing as the pilot shortage continues to impact airlines.
Growing a full airline based on 50-seat planes in the USA has yet to prove a successful approach to the business; just ask Independence Air or ExpressJet when it briefly tried to operate as a standalone carrier. Oh, and there are scant few options for Wifi on a 50-seat plane. So that will be interesting.
In this particular case the hope would be that non-stop service from a mid-size business market would support the operation, with the draw of nostalgia providing free-ish marketing value to the company. That did not work so well for PeoplExpress nor for Eastern in recent years and it is hard to see much of a difference here, other than the willingness to offer more spacious seating and cookies. No doubt passengers will say that’s what they want on board. But it is not at all clear if any are willing to pay for it.
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