The Short-Lived US Carrier’s 10 Years

Once upon a time, there were two Midway Airlines. The second was an attempt to carry forward some memories of the first but with a different approach. This is their story.

Picking up where # 1 left off

The first Midway Airlines was thus named because it was based at Chicago Midway Airport (MDW). This square, urban locked airfield served as Chicago’s primary airport until the opening of O’Hare International Airport in 1955. Even after that, it remained a popular option for the ever-growing O’Hare.


Aside from the name, there are many connections between both airlines. The second iteration was staffed by 150 employees, most alumni of the original Midway. Kenneth T. Carlson, the new president, had been one of the original Midway’s founders before starting New York Air in 1980.

In 1983, Jet Express, Inc. took the name Midway Airlines Corporation. Fokker, the Dutch aircraft manufacturer, and several investors pitched in more than $ 250 million to build momentum. The Dutch company played a key role since it provided a fleet of eight new (leased) Fokker 100 jets. Air service with the new airline began in November 1993 with Chicago Midway-New York LaGuardia service using two Fokker 100s. Routes were added, including major destinations such as Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando, Dallas / Ft. Worth, Denver, Tampa, Washington DC

Growing pains

MDW’s limited geography did not allow for expansion. Other airlines also used the Chicago reliever as a home base of operations. And with the likes of ATA coming into operations, Midway Airlines’ management decided to move their headquarters to Durham, North Carolina. In 1995, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) was set up as a hub before the airline eventually moved its headquarters to Morrisville, North Carolina.

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This move into RDU was fortuitous since American Airlines had just left its hub there for warmer climates in Miami. This allowed Midway to establish its place in the Research Triangle region while also joining forces with American, which it contracted for maintenance. Their relationship developed into frequent flyer miles agreements and integration into the Saber computer reservations system. Passenger loads were increasing, and expansion was in sight, but the airline still came up short. Specifically, the company lost $ 11 million in its first eighteen months.

This American Airlines B767 departing RDU is a good metaphor between the major carrier’s departure from this airport hub as well as its relationship with Midway Airlines. Photo: J ames Willamor via Wikimedia Commons.

The Midway fleet

Midway used Fokker 100 aircraft when it launched, just as the first edition. Eventually, market expansion was part of the company’s flight plan, setting its eye on the Caribbean. The Airbus A320-200 was the model of choice for this tropical network. Unfortunately, tropical climates breed hurricanes, affecting some infrastructures in the planned expansion areas.

Other financial issues eventually forced the airline to redeploy its Airbus fleet to West Coast routes. Competitive pressures and other factors eventually forced Midway to do away with the A320s and instead focus on other models. The Bombardier CRJ-200 was another platform used for expansion. As the airline entered the new millennium, the Fokkers were replaced with another popular aircraft: the Boeing 737-700.

Midway is grounded … again.

Midway moved to Ralegh-Durham and faced many financial headwinds from low-cost competitors and geopolitical issues. Southwest Airlines set up at RDU, which almost immediately began affecting Midway’s cash flow. The next move was to eliminate the Fokker fleet, which was costly to operate. Focusing on West coast routes was another move for the carrier.

The airline was already struggling when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred. The ensuing airspace shutdown devastated the carrier, which had declared bankruptcy a month before. Midway applied for a loan under post-9/11 legislation, and when it received the money, the airline restarted flights with just the Boeing 737-700 fleet. Eventually, however, the company was financially unsustainable, and in 2002, the Midway Airlines name was grounded for a second (and last) time.

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