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Vince Vitrano: Not For Broadcast

A FLUTE WITH NO HOLES

MIDWEST RISKS LOSING ITS IDENTITY

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It's not funny, but the latest round of changes and cuts at Midwest Airlines got me thinking of a quote from the film Caddyshack.

Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) says to young Danny, "The Zen philosopher Basho once wrote, 'a flute with no holes is not a flute, and a donut with no hole... is a danish.'"

I love that line.

I wrote once about a Midwest Airlines flight I took just before 9/11. Steak was the in-flight meal. It was served with red or white wine. It was all part of the ticket price. Those meals, along with the china they were served on have long since disappeared.

I once flew non-stop from Milwaukee to the West Coast on Midwest. Most of those routes are gone.

I once knew, personally, at least a few people who worked at Midwest. They were all laid off, or fear they will be.

I did a story, and flew with Midwest CEO Tim Hoeksema the day the Airline accepted delivery of its first, beautiful, Boeing 717. The seats were remarkably comfortable, the Rolls Royce engines remarkably quiet. Now we've got word that most of that fleet is going to be gone too. Even the pilots who fly those plane will be laid off. Midwest says they'll eventually be recalled, but for a time at least, people who don't work for Midwest Airlines will be piloting some Midwest Airlines flights.

No more free meals. Fewer wide leather seats. Less leg room. Fewer home-town pilots. At what point does Midwest Airlines cease to be Midwest Airlines?

The cookies are about the only Midwest signature that consistently remains. 

A former Midwest executive whom we interviewed yesterday had this to say of all the cuts, " I think the result of the news from the corporate headquarters over the past year really it represents a betrayal of the employees and a betrayal of Milwaukee."

There are people wondering... would we have been better off with AirTran? They're the people who pay taxes, and support some of them going to provide breaks for Midwest to "park" it's planes here. They're the people who fly the hometown airline, even when its more expensive... just because it's what Wisconsinites do to support our own. They're the people who bought "Save the Cookie t-shirts."

They saved the cookie, indeed. They may not have saved much more, and at this rate... the cookie may be next.

Two points in defense of Midwest Airlines. First of all, much of this is beyond the control of the management. It's not the fault of Milwaukee's Home Town Airline that oil prices soared above 150 dollars a barrel. That alone can ruin a company that consumes jet fuel as a matter of survival.

It's also worth noting, the cuts upon cuts, upon cuts are the only thing keeping Midwest in the air at all. The recent round of cuts frees up 60 million dollars in capitol for the Airline, which it will use to pay the bills. It's like selling your jewelry and family heirlooms to buy bread and milk. But if you want to survive, you make tough choices.

Here's a good problem for Midwest: If people feel betrayed its because they feel such strong ownership. It's something that is uniquely ours, and respected across the country. Wisconsinites don't want to lose it, or the very reasons we're so proud of it.

emails: vvitrano@todaystmj4.com

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