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At a time when passengers on major domestic airlines often feel fortunate to get a bag of peanuts, Midwest Express Airlines offers a quasi-restaurant-in-the-sky. And it turns tasty profits, too.

The airline, known for its free champagne with meals featuring lobster, steak and poached salmon, recorded a profit for the 12th straight year in 1998, giving it the second-longest such streak in the industry behind Southwest Airlines.

Profits come despite the $11-per-passenger Midwest says it spends on meals, compared with the $4.16 average Consumer Reports says others spend.

"The most popular strategy in the airline industry has been low fares, which drives a reduction in food service and everything else. And we've chosen a different strategy and so far it's working for us," says Brenda Skelton, senior VP-marketing.

Using a cable TV campaign last year, the airline raised its profile and attracted additional customers from beyond its hub markets of Milwaukee, Omaha and Kansas City, Mo. Cable TV allows the airline, which spends about $4 million a year on advertising, to get more bang for its buck, Ms. Skelton says.

"It's a way we can build national awareness in a cost-efficient way because we're very much of a niche carrier," she says.

It has used the same agency, Bender, Browning, Dolby & Sanderson, Chicago, and

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