Ever have one of those moment of panic when you thought that you were boarding the wrong flight?
It's not as common now as in past years, but I remember a trip where I made my arrangements to fly Alaska Airlines but did a double take upon entering one flight because the tail of the Dash-8 I was boarding was emblazoned with "Horizon" and not the familiar fur-wrapped Eskimo I'd come to associate with Alaska Airlines. Little did I know at the time, but Horizon was partnered with Alaska Airlines and ran some of the carriers shorter flights.
Due to the myriad of carrier agreements, mergers, or partnerships, today’s airline traveler is confronted with an intermingled mix of small carriers "doing business as" and "operated by" larger players that is, at times, mind-numbing.
Attesting to this fact, Delta and Northwest became one, ValuJet bought AirTran (killing the ValuJet brand), and American Airlines purchased TWA in the past decade. Yesterday, aviation trade publications reported United, tired of stalking U.S. Airways, has now trained their sights on Continental.
While the mergers of large carriers is often the source of public concern, some regional carriers have thrived since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978. For instance, once-regional players that offer lower fares, like Southwest, have better service (at times) and operate a more cost-effective, streamlined operation have been able to compete -- and remain profitable -- nationally.
Although both brand names were allowed to carry on following their purchase in 2009, Midwest's final flight was in November; Republic held on to two both brand names while conducting research as to which brand held more value for customers.
If you’re not familiar with either carrier, Frontier hubs out of Denver and is known for offering DirecTV on all of their "new" Airbus aircraft. Frontier's branding efforts revolve around the use of “spokesanimals” that tout characters such as "Larry the Lynx," "Grizwald the Bear," "Jack the Rabbit," and "Flip the Dolphin.” Each aircraft in the fleet is associated with a different animal.
Midwest Airlines' branding efforts were varied, but the airline built their reputation by "Offering the Best Care in the Air." The airline, based in Oak Creek, WI, flew out of Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport and became popular for their business class 2-by-2 seating and chocolate chip cookies -- baked right on the flight -- that were given to passengers at the tail-end of the flight. The cookies, made from a secret recipe, were so popular that they moved out of the planes and into six Milwaukee grocery stores.
Both brands, known for their loyal customers, are also valued due to their affordability, convenience, destination choice, and passenger experience. The loss of the Midwest name, however, has led to concern for the Wisconsin-based customers who love their hometown airline.
However, according to Bryan Bedford, president, chairman, and CEO of Republic Airways Holdings, the Midwest name may go away, but the brand's influence will remain, as will the chocolate chip cookies, which will now be introduced on all Frontier flights beginning this summer.
In all respects, Republic is handling the consolidation efforts in a manner that is respectful and intensely focused on consumer awareness. In addition to reassuring Midwest brand enthusiasts by incorporating the airline's branded service into the new Frontier fleet, the holding company has set up a communications Web site, FrontierMidwest.com, that carries information about the merger, ensuring that fans of both airlines are well-informed on how the merger will affect them.
Ian Arthur, Republic's vice president of marketing and branding stated: "Together as Frontier Airlines we make a very important brand promise to our guests. Our promise is to deliver a better and different flying experience, because it is the best care in the air."
The integration of the two carriers is expected to be complete within the next 12-18 months. Despite Republic's aggressive schedule, the holding company remains focused on reassuring passengers to retain consumer loyalty, a welcome change when compared to the lack of planning or consumer awareness resulting from other company mergers.
While the Midwest brand is integrated into Frontier, will the former Midwest aircraft receive new spokesanimal names and DirecTV? According to the communication web site's FAQs, the former Midwest fleet will receive the "animal treatment," but as to DirecTV, the company stated the TVs will stay. They are also exploring "other in-flight entertainment options" and plan to incoporate them by the end of next year.
I applaud Republic's handling of the merger and their consumer-centric effort. Given the choice between fresh cookies and DirecTV versus a $7charge for a pillow, I know the airline I'd choose.