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Frontier drops nearly all Milwaukee service, effectively ends Midwest legacy

Frontier Airlines jets awaiting their next flights. Frontier announced Monday it would discontinue nearly all service from Milwaukee, leaving the airport with only seven daily flights.
Frontier Airlines jets awaiting their next flights. Frontier announced Monday it would discontinue nearly all service from Milwaukee, leaving the airport with only seven daily flights.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Frontier Airlines will continue the reduction of flights at the former Midwest Airlines hub at Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport effective June 1, the Milwaukee Business Journal reported Monday. Among the cities slated for cessation of service are Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Nashville, Omaha and Pittsburgh. Frontier service will continue to Washington, D.C.; Orlando, and Denver. The latest reduction in service cuts the number of Frontier departures at Milwaukee to seven from 18.

Frontier will also discontinue service from Milwaukee to Rhinelander, Wisconsin, although the cessation date for that service is pending. Frontier parent Republic Airways subsidiary Chatauqua had requested to suspend Frontier-branded regional jet service at Rhinelander in September 2011. The intrastate route is covered by the federal government's Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy program, although Chatauqua had been operating the service without federal funding. The DOT denied the carrier's request to suspend service until a replacement carrier could be found, and subsequently began paying subsidies. The EAS route was awarded to Great Lakes in March, 2012 with new turboprop flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul, although Chatauqua must continue to operate the service until Great Lakes has begun service on the route. The full text of the EAS docket can be found here.

Frontier announced an additional 125 jobs would be lost in Milwaukee due to the reduction of flights. The carrier's market share has steadily declined. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics for Milwaukee, in the 12 months ending January 2012, Frontier and Republic stablemate Chatauqua accounted for 21.58% of traffic at Milwaukee, while Southwest Airlines and subsidiary AirTran Airways accounted for 39.33%. Just five years ago, predecessor Midwest Airlines accounted for 40.08% of the market. In January 2011, the Republic brands Chatauqua, Republic, and Frontier still accounted for 34% of the market.

The legacy of Midwest Airlines, which for years dominated service to Milwaukee was further diluted when Frontier Airlines announced it would no longer serve complimentary baked-on-board chocolate chip cookies after existing supplies were depleted. The cookies had been a trademark of Midwest Airlines since the carrier's previous incarnation, Midwest Express, had offered premium seating and onboard food and beverage service, as well as the focus for a grass roots effort to avoid a hostile takeover attempt by AirTran Airways. Republic ultimately bought Midwest in 2009, and merged the brand into Frontier in 2010. The former Midwest Airlines lounge at Milwaukee, the Best Care Club, will also be closing by the end of May.

In contrast to the service cuts by Frontier, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly recently said the carrier and subsidiary AirTran were poised for additional growth at Milwaukee, possibly in excess of 50 daily departures. Southwest Airlines began its own service at Milwaukee in 2009, and competes vigorously with Frontier at Milwaukee, Denver, Kansas City, Omaha, and other former Midwest hubs.

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