AirTran-Frontier: Once Friendly Airlines Are Now Kicking, Gouging Eyes

Last Updated May 18, 2010 3:37 PM EDT

It's no secret that AirTran and Frontier aren't exactly the best of friends these days. Back in rosier times, the two signed an agreement that fed passengers between each others' networks. It wasn't a codeshare, but it was as close as either of them had come to that point. Then things went south, and now the partnership is over. This isn't a surprise at all, but it has been fun to watch friends become foes.

The brawl is really all about Milwaukee. Long ago, AirTran decided it wanted to move in to Milwaukee and it made a bid for Midwest. At the time, Midwest CEO Tim Hoeksema fought off the bid in order to keep Midwest alive. That was the best thing that could have happened for AirTran.

See, AirTran would have overpaid for that airline when it didn't need to. It simply went into Milwaukee anyway and started up its own operation, determined to push Midwest out. Then Republic bought both Midwest and Frontier and the former partners became rivals in a way. The recent announcement that the brands would solidify around the Frontier name means that Frontier and AirTran would not only be partners, but they would be chief rivals in Milwaukee. There was no way this was going to last.

Last week, AirTran decided to slap Frontier (er, Midwest) around with a promotion. The idea? If Milwaukee residents donated at least 50,000 Midwest Miles to charity, AirTran would give them a bunch of their own points. It's a smart (if not somewhat sleazy) promotion that clearly targets former Midwest loyalists who are interested in switching allegiance.

While I'm sure an end to the partnership was in the works, I have to think this was the last straw. Just yesterday, Frontier announced that it will terminate its partnership with AirTran on July 16. The ties lasted nearly four years, but now it's gone in favor of full-on competition... unless, of course, AirTran decides to make a move for the new Frontier. That would certainly make Milwaukee look instantly better, but there are all kinds of problems with something like that. In this soap opera industry of ours, it would be fitting, no?

Photo via Frontier Airlines