Air Transport World

We're not a low-fare carrier: midwest Express has amassed an enviable record of success by providing first-class service at network airline prices; can it continue to do so in this brave new world? (Profile).(Midwest Express Airlines Inc. services information)(Statistical Data Included)

Since it was launched by Kimberly Clark Corp. in June 1984 with a pair of DC-9s and a three-city route network, Midwest Express has been the exception to the rule that no market exists in the US for an all-first-class airline.

A lot has occurred at the Milwaukee-based carrier over the ensuing 18 years. The fleet now numbers 35 aircraft--23 DC-9s and 12 MD-80s--and the first of 25 newly ordered 717s begin arriving in early 2003. In addition to its main hub here at General Mitchell Airport, the airline has opened smaller bases in Kansas City and Omaha. The route network encompasses 26 destinations across the US, including key business centers such as New York, Washington, Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles, and if the operations of Regional affiliate Skyway Airlines are included the number rises to 50. Kimberly Clark no longer controls the airline, having spun it off through an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995.

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is Midwest Express's single-minded focus on providing what it rightly describes as the "best care in the air" to its mostly business clientele who are taking advantage of a network of nonstops or connecting via Skyway from places like Appleton, Green Bay and Lansing. Schedules are designed to allow same-day trips, with a typical city-pair receiving two or three services per day--New York gets five.

Onboard, passengers are treated to full meal service, complimentary wine and champagne and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies on lunch flights, which they can enjoy while luxuriating in the airline's uniquely spacious cabin configuration that includes two-by-two leather seats with 21-in. seat bottoms configured in a generous 33-34-in, pitch. Midwest Express spent an average of $10.96 per passenger on food in the first nine months of 2001. The average for the big six "full-service" airlines over the same period was around 56. according to data compiled by this magazine (ATW, 5/01, p. 76).

Equally remarkable in an era of pretzel-logic service standards is that until recently, all of this was provided at a tidy profit. In fact, before falling into the red in 2001 (see table), parent company Midwest Express Holdings had an unbroken streak of profitability dating back to 1987 while enjoying a virtually debt-free balance sheet. …

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