In the city that beer made famous, it’s a rite of spring, throwing out the first ball of the big-league baseball season, an American festival. They take the sport very seriously, especially in the gritty industrial cities of the old Midwestern rustbelt, cities like Milwaukee. The Wisconsin city, which is no longer either gritty or industrial but a booming centre of hi-tech and medicine, is also home to Midwest Airlines, and the airline takes its hometown seriously. Seriously enough to try to change some of its hometown habits, adding its famous ‘baked-on-board’ chocolate chip cookies to the traditional beer and bratwurst at Milwaukee Brewers ball games. The ball team’s name reflects another tradition of this city, one one of the nation’s two major beer-brewing centres. (The other is St. Louis, which hasn’t had an airline since TWA died in 2001 but is home to Anheuser-Busch, the brewers of Budweiser.) So Midwest, the airline that used to known as Midwest Express, has gone to its city’s ballpark with cookies and will be selling its signature cookies during every home game at the city’s Miller Park, named after another Milwaukee institution, Miller Brewing. Fans will get three of the cookies, still warm, for $3 in a little stay warm package.
The airline will also give away 30,000 seat cushions designed to look like the all-leather seats on Midwest planes. The airline’s cookie mascot, Chip, will also be at games at the ballpark, competing with the team mascot, a brewer, and other mascots, who are locals dressed up like German sausages. Midwest, though, is trying to make a serious point: it is the hometown airline and the airline for the region. This is important just now as Midwest fights off an unwanted buyout bid from AirTran Airways. Midwest has enlisted strong hometown support in seeking to fend off the unsought and unwelcome suitor from Orlando, arguing that AirTran’s model is based on price while Midwest bases its business on service, especially its trademark baked-onboard chocolate chip cookies. AirTran’s pursuit has been going on for months, becoming public in December and getting richer twice. AirTran came out at $290 million, raised it to $345 million in January and early this week boosted it to $389 million. Midwest has set its annual meeting for 23 May, by which time the matter may well be settled one way or the other. Midwest is probably hoping it has better luck than the ball team: the Brewers lost their opening game to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5 to 4 runs.