July 24, 2008

Others Will Fly Midwest Routes

By Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Jul. 24--While cuts by Midwest Airlines will leave travelers from Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport with fewer nonstop destinations, other carriers are moving to fill some of those gaps.

Since Midwest announced its cuts Sunday, AirTran Airways has said it will add flights to Baltimore, Florida and Las Vegas. Northwest Airlines Corp. will add nonstop service to Los Angeles.

With the Midwest service cuts that take effect Sept. 8, and the flights being added this fall and winter by AirTran and Northwest, travelers from Mitchell will end up with eight fewer nonstop destinations: Hartford, Conn.; Louisville, Ky.; Muskegon, Mich.; Raleigh, N.C.; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; and Wausau/Stevens Point, via Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee.

Those changes will leave Mitchell with just under 40 nonstop destinations. Given the cuts that airlines are making nationwide, Milwaukee is still in "excellent shape" for the size of the air travel market here, said C. Barry Bateman, airport director.

However, additional cuts could come, Bateman said Wednesday. And there are no indications that airlines that currently don't serve Milwaukee are seriously considering an expansion here, he said.

"I think right now you're seeing very much of a holding pattern for airlines," Bateman said.

Fuel prices culprit

The culprit, say airline executives, are record-high jet fuel prices.

They led Midwest Airlines and its Midwest Connect regional carrier to roll back Milwaukee-based service to levels that existed at the beginning of this decade. In 2000, before a recession and terrorist attacks caused a steep decline in air travel, Midwest offered nonstop flights from Mitchell to 29 cities.

Come fall, Midwest will have 90 daily departures to 28 cities -down from 118 departures to 38 cities -- from the airport, where it is the dominant carrier.

AirTran, the second-largest carrier at Mitchell, offers 21 departures to 11 cities.

AirTran will drop some of those destinations in September because they are seasonal flights. In January, AirTran said it would add summer flights from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and Boston.

AirTran also is terminating service to Washington, D.C., which it started in April.

But the airline confirmed Wednesday it is converting its seasonal service to Baltimore to year-around service.

Also, AirTran, which last year tried to mount a hostile takeover of Midwest, will still fly from Milwaukee to New York, Atlanta, Orlando and Las Vegas. It is adding flights to the Las Vegas and Orlando runs.

For travelers to Florida, AirTran said Wednesday it will launch service to Fort Lauderdale; broaden flights to Tampa from seasonal to year-round service; and increase service to Fort Myers from weekly to daily flights.

With those changes, in effect from September through December, AirTran will peak at 18 departures to eight destinations.

Filling an open market

Baltimore, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale are among destinations that Midwest is dropping. Midwest also is shifting its Orlando flights to seasonal service, from Oct. 21 to April 30, and is cutting its Las Vegas run from three daily departures to two.

AirTran's decision to improve its Baltimore, Florida and Las Vegas service was a reaction to the Midwest cuts, said Kevin Healy, AirTran's vice president of planning.

The other airline that has taken similar action is Northwest, which owns a 47% stake in Midwest Air Group Inc., the corporate parent of Midwest Airlines and Midwest Connect. Fort Worth, Texas, investment firm TPG Capital is the majority owner.

On Monday, Northwest announced that its Los Angeles nonstop flights would begin Sept. 6, two days before Midwest's service from Milwaukee to Los Angeles adds a stop in Kansas City.

"Midwest Airlines' exit is leaving a large market without nonstop service," said Northwest spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo-Shannon. "Northwest sees an opportunity to fill that void."

As for other carriers, American Airlines is dropping from 13 daily Milwaukee departures to nine by Nov. 3, said spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. American will maintain service to its four nonstop destinations: Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and Marquette, Mich.

Also, Delta Airlines Inc., which is buying Northwest, is dropping from 11 to 10 departures, said spokeswoman Susan Elliott. The airline only offers flights from Milwaukee to its Atlanta and Cincinnati hubs.

Continental Airlines Corp., Frontier Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways are holding steady for now, with no planned service cuts from Milwaukee once the peak summer travel season ends.


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