Battle of the Airline Brands: Frontier vs. Midwest. Which Will Survive

Last Updated Apr 6, 2010 6:12 AM EDT

When Republic Airways acquired both Midwest and Frontier Airlines, management must have thought that they could easily maintain both brands while gaining efficiencies through a merger of just about everything else. They couldn't have been more wrong, so now they're going to make a choice. We'll know which one wins this fight to the death next week.

Republic's heritage is as a regional carrier. As a regional, Republic flew its airplanes under a variety of different colors with different brand standards. So why couldn't they do the same thing with their own brands? Well, it's a different story entirely. When they fly as United Express, for example, it's under the United brand name. People don't go looking for the United Express website. They know that they're going to United. There really is only one brand.

With Frontier and Midwest, that wasn't the case. Republic ended up with two separate mid-size brands that didn't have tremendous recognition except in their hometowns. When Midwest flights were operated by some Frontier airplanes, it became confusing. When the same exact airplanes would swap between the different brands during the day depending upon which flight they were flying (without changing paint schemes, obviously), it became even more confusing. And when Midwest and Frontier started codesharing on each other's flights, all hell broke loose. The two independent brands began to meld together, diluting them both. Something had to give.

Now, Republic has announced it will choose a single brand, and the announcement will be made on April 13 in Denver (Frontier's home), Milwaukee (Midwest's home), and Indianapolis (Republic's corporate home). Which one will survive? There have been some clues.

For example, when Republic announced it was ordering a large number of Bombardier aircraft, it opted to install Frontier's Stretch seating as opposed to the legacy Midwest Signature seats. Also, the person leading the customer experience is Jan Fogelberg, a Frontier veteran. So if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Frontier surviving, taking only the fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie from Midwest. And that would be the right move.

While the Midwest name does have strong recognition in the Milwaukee market, it hasn't been a true hometown airline for years. The product has eroded year after year to the point where it is now. It is truly unrecognizable compared to where it was 10 years ago. In fact, it's only the cookie that remains as a signature item. The airline doesn't even operate its own airplanes. Frontier, meanwhile, has remained largely intact, though there has been some confusion since the Republic acquisition. Still, it is the more recognizable brand around these days and the most intact brand.

Will Republic do the right thing? I guess we'll have to wait until April 13 to find out. Let's hope they do.

[Photo via Flickr user jmac33208]