Midwest Flies in the Face of Takeover Effort

Midwest loyalist Judy Schweikart, an Omaha lawyer, flies the airline whenever she can, and dreads the thought of a takeover.


Midwest's passengers seem to love their homey little airline with its two-across, four-to-a-row leather seats on many flights. Like other airlines, Midwest started charging for meals and wine in the post-9/11 travel downturn. Even now, the food is better than most. It has won awards from Travel & Leisure magazine, Conde Nast travel publications and food reviewer Zagat.

Midwest loyalist Judy Schweikart, an Omaha lawyer, flies the airline whenever she can, and dreads the thought of a takeover.

"If they make Midwest into AirTran, they're going to lose something unique," she says. "I hope the shareholders turn it down."

Meanwhile, AirTran executives can't fathom Midwest's rejection and its refusal to even sit down for talks. Leonard, the CEO, says Midwest is profitable only because Minneapolis-based Northwest, which serves Milwaukee, has cut flights while in bankruptcy protection. Midwest disputes that assertion.

Leonard says Midwest is so small and dependent on Milwaukee that it would be crushed if Northwest set its sights on that market. Northwest still has six gates at Milwaukee Mitchell airport, and could add flights and put pressure on Midwest after exiting bankruptcy, he says.

If AirTran and Midwest merged, both would be stronger, Leonard says. AirTran would go from serving 52 cities to more than 70 overnight. AirTran could increase flights to lucrative destinations Midwest also serves, such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

But Hoeksema says AirTran is simply "desperate" because it has "all these airplanes coming" and needs to expand. AirTran is scheduled to receive 60 new planes between now and 2010, and needs places to put them. The merged carrier could put new Boeing 737s on routes Midwest is now serving with aging MD80s and smaller 717s.

AirTran has even offered to keep serving free chocolate chip cookies on the merged carrier if the deal goes through. But they would not be baked onboard.

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