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Fly from Milwaukee!


I don't know if reasonably priced corporate travel gets better than this. I am in the midst of a very positive travel experience and just need to tell some of you who fly a lot about it. I like it when a company's plan actually works.

Many of you have joked about the wisdom of living in Milwaukee and working in Chicago. There continue to be stimulating and delightful things at both ends of my 182 mile (round trip) daily highway commute. Midwest Express airlines, however, is my newly discovered compensation for the drive itself.

We booked my current flight to San Francisco only a few days in advance but were able to get a price which compares favorably with similar flights from O'Hare to SFO. I'm staying over a Saturday night, which helps. My E-Ticket entailed waiting perhaps 3 minutes in line and check-in at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport was painless - the terminal is smaller and parking rates much cheaper than O'Hare. Boarding and take-off on time, and I picked up a complimentary newspaper at the gate.

From any airline with the name "Express" I expected low cost, no frills, sardine seating, stale dry food and screaming babies all the way to California. Not so. The aircraft is an MD-80 (I guess that's a Boeing 80 now) outfitted with 31 rows of wide leather seats, two on each side of a wide center aisle, with a six inch armrest between. So 4 seats where the others put 5 or 6. Lots of legroom for me even with the laptop case under the seat. The engines are in back, not on the wing, and I'm in row five, so things are calm. Crew announced the altitude above which we can operate our laptops and CD players, and I'm listening to the brand new Acoustic Alchemy CD we bought last night at their concert in Milwaukee. Very pleasant.

This would be enough for me to recommend the airline, but there's more.

The cabin crew announced breakfast service: a Wisconsin Cheddar omelet with ham, seasoned roast potatoes, pastries, fruit and complimentary champagne! It arrives on a tray with cloth place-mat and napkin, "real china" serving pieces, teeny little glass salt and pepper shakers and a cute little glass flute for the champagne. There is enough room to extend my elbows to the side while cutting my ham. Most of the passengers elected to mix their champagne with orange juice and make impromptu Mimosa punch. And the food was pretty good! Second servings were available and there was an alternate cereal and fruit selection - the fruit was nicely arranged on those. After my tray was cleared the steward asked if I would like to keep my coffee and has produced a dainty saucer and small napkin. So my rating here is very good (for airline food).

I read in airline magazine section about in-flight service. Turns out that Midwest Express has decided to make their cuisine a selling point. Their meals feature Wisconsin products including the obvious dairy and brewery items, but also including those Danish Kringle pastries from Racine which I like. Conde Naste Traveler readers (it says) and the Zagat guide rate Midwest Express the best airline. Champagne is complimentary on the breakfast flights, wine with lunch and dinner. The slogan is "the best care in the air" and I agree that's just what I'm getting at the moment. Midwest's route map has about 25 cities and it's a reasonable alternative for almost all the big places I might want to go except the northwest.

My taste in the wine can barely tell the difference between a cork and screw-top, so I've no idea if the champagne is of premium quality. Yes, it could be nicer in first class... if there was a first class on this airline. But there isn't. And the cheap seats are darned good back here today....

Oh yes, there is one screaming baby. Mom and the stew crew are passing her around up front in the wide seat by the bulkhead.

Very friendly. Maybe the champagne is OK after all.

Somewhere over Colorado, I think.




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