Finally Flying Midwest, er Frontier, er Chautauqua (Trip Report)

It seems like I’ve been trying to fly Midwest for years. When I was in school in DC in the ’90s, I always wanted to fly the airline that had fancy seats and delicious meals. Even more recently when the product had been completely altered, I still tried to fly them. They canceled our flight before we could try it. But this was finally going to be my chance to “fly” Midwest. I put that in quotes because there’s really very little “Midwest” about it. In fact, I would argue that the cookie is pretty much the only thing left. Don’t get me wrong, the flights were nice, but a blown connection meant our trip took a lot longer than we had hoped.

We paid a mere $158.70 per person for the one way on a redeye to Milwaukee with a 2.5 hour connection before heading on to Indianapolis. Leading up to our flight, I watched the potential ice storm approaching Milwaukee with fear. This was going to be ugly. Surprisingly, it was actually the weather in Denver that caused us problems, not Milwaukee.

December 23, 2009
Midwest #754 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1130p Arr Milwaukee (MKE) 511a
: Gate 67B, Runway 25R, Dept 2h31m Late
: Gate D47, Runway 7R, Arr 2h30m Late
Aircraft: N914FR, Airbus A319-111, Stretch the Egret Tail, 100% Full
Seat: 8A
Flight Time: 3h31m

This flight comes in to LA from Denver as a Frontier flight and then turns to Milwaukee as a Midwest flight. They don’t dedicate aircraft to one operation. The snow in Denver kept causing taxi delays, and we sat at home watching the flight get pushed further and further.

It did get in the air (finally) and we headed to the airport. There was no line at security, and we wandered up to the same gate (at right) we used to fly Virgin America before they moved from Terminal 6 to Terminal 3. People were sprawled out as best they could (the armrests aren’t moveable, drat). The only other flight around was a Copa flight down to Panama.

I saw on FlightAware that , yet they had a 117a departure posted. Yeah, right. Our flight had been delayed so much that I was now afraid we would miss our connection. I went up to the gate agents to ask.

There were four agents standing in a circle, three with their backs toward me. I asked them if there were other flights with seats available were we to miss our connection in Milwaukee. A grumpy woman behind the counter said that wouldn’t happen.

After her repeated assurances that everything would be fine, I finally said to her, “look, can you just tell me if there are other flights to Indy with room just in case?” She said, “they’ll handle that in Milwaukee, but you won’t miss your connection. They’re holding all flights in Milwaukee.” I’ve heard that one before. Exasperated, I just looked at her and said, “You can’t just check?”

Apparently annoyed that I had tried to ask her to be helpful, she started typing in her computer while the agent next to her reminded her that the code for Milwaukee was MKE. Oh boy.

A couple seconds later, she said, “nope, no seats for the rest of the day. But you’ll make your connection.” They said the same thing in an announcement to all the customers.

As predicted, the flight arrived at about 1a and took absolutely forever to turn around. My understanding is that the PA system in the gate area doesn’t work, and they’re still waiting for LAX to fix the problem. That only added to the chaos to hear agents shouting things out. The line to board backed up to the beginning of the jet bridge, and it was moving very slowly. Eventually, we all got on the plane, but the turn took a solid hour.

The flight itself was a blur. I’m not sure if they served the traditional Midwest cookie because I actually passed out pretty quickly from exhaustion. Everything else on the plane was distinctly Frontier. Midwest isn’t even a brand anymore – it’s just a name they seem to use for selling purposes but that’s it these days.

Frontier does have some nice leather seats with headrests and, of course, LiveTV, so I can’t complain. I woke up over the Rockies and went in and out of sleep the rest of the flight. When we passed over Iowa, we hit some bumps, but that was about it. The captain told us it would be bumpy coming in to Milwaukee, but it wasn’t at all.

We landed in a dreary, cold, and snow-filled Milwaukee about 10 minutes after our connection was supposed to leave. I whipped out my phone and found that our plane had already left. Bastards.

Before they let everyone off, they told people that the Pittsburgh flight was still there, but all the other flights left, so we had to all be rebooked. Not cool at all.

Fortunately, someone who does PR for Milwaukee’s airport had emailed me before asking me a fair bit about the blog and wanting to learn more about what type of PR I would like to see from Milwaukee. I mentioned off-hand that I was actually flying through Milwaukee for the first time. When our flight got closer, I found an email from her saying we had been put on the guest list for Midwest’s Best Care Club. That was very nice of her and it really made our lives infinitely better with our long layover.

So even though they said to see an agent to be rebooked, we wandered over to the club and we were the only ones there. The woman working the front desk had a bag of MKE goodies waiting for us with a personalized poem (above left, click to enlarge), and I asked her if we’d be able to get out. She said that we had already been rebooked and she had our boarding passes for the next flight. It was only half full. The LAX agent lied.

So we went into the club, had a traditional cookie, and then passed out for a couple hours. Kirsten was thrilled that the MKE gift bag included a fleece blanket. She stole it and made herself a nice little nap area on the ground. I, however, couldn’t sleep.

The club is actually one of the nicer ones around. It’s very oddly shaped, which is perfect, because it creates a few, smaller private areas. We found the big TV with a fireplace on the other side of the room, and I sat there watching as I checked my email.

A friend of mine was coming into MKE around 11a, so I figured I would go meet him. The club attendant assured me that security lines wouldn’t be long, so I went out to the main area and walked around. There’s a fantastic old bookstore with tall stacks and lots of cool old books for sale. (I found some very old United government documents for sale in a book for $75, but I didn’t buy it.) Then I went over to the aviation museum where I met my friend.

It was a great way to spend the time, but I just wish that central area was inside security. The lines to get back were short, however, and soon I was back in the club. Kirsten was still passed out. You know when you get to the point where you’re so tired, you’ll do anything to sleep? Yeah, I was there. I kept trying to rearrange the furniture to help me sleep better, but alas, I never did.

December 24, 2009
Midwest #1205 Lv Milwaukee (MKE) 120p Arr Indianapolis (IND) 320p
: Gate D28, Runway 19R, Dept 5m Early
: Gate B13, Runway 5L, Arr On Time
Aircraft: N380SK, Embraer ERJ-135KL, Generic Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 3C
Flight Time: 35m

This flight was at gate D28, which actually boards from underneath the main concourse. We had to walk out into the cold air before boarding on a snow slicked ramp up to the airplane. This plane was an ERJ-135 that used to see service as American Connection out of St Louis. They had given it a new, generic paint job, but not much else changed.

Our flight attendant was surprisingly old for what I’ve come to expect on a regional carrier. Then I remembered that Midwest pilots and flight attendants were now working at the bottom of the seniority list. I asked, and sure enough, she used to work for Midwest. She did a great job.

This flight was like pretty much any other. We sat in the clouds most of the time, and our flight attendant came by handing out cookies. After a very short ride, it was time to land in dreary Indianapolis. We were exhausted.

Tomorrow, I’ll have our return on American in First Class . . .

As a postscript, I thought it worth noting that I’ve already received a personal email apology from the station manager at LAX. That was a very nice gesture.

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