Airline Update (Delta, AirTran, Southwest)

A new crystal mobile in the center of ATL's new Terminal F, which opens May 16 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

FARE ADVICE.  Delta is quietly matching a fare sale initiated by AirTran and Southwest today—prices are decent, but only available for flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through June 27—not bad if you’ve got to make a quick two-day midweek trip. Also, given the price of oil and the fact that airlines are trying like mad to RAISE fares to pay their fuel bills, it might be time to shift your schedule around for these sales. Going forward, I expect that we’ll see few “across the board” sales any more—like this one, they will be of very short duration, or very limited to slow days—like Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Our advice: If you find a fare that feels remotely reasonable, book it—because it is likely to increase as summer approaches. This will hold especially true for flights to Europe this summer, specifically nonstops  during the summer peak between about June 15 and Labor Day, which are already in the $1500-$2000 range—for coach!

FAIR WARNING: In case you’ve not noticed, we are in the midst of collegiate spring break, and the airport is packed with rowdy students, who typically travel Friday-Monday. The same holds true for beachside hotels in Florida. Also, remember that the Master’s Golf Tournament over in Augusta runs from April 2-April 8 this year, which puts a lot of pressure on Atlanta airport—and rental car prices soar. This year, the tournament runs during spring break for kids in elementary and high school (the week before Easter on April 8 ) so plan on getting to the airport early if traveling this week. (Check out my latest Spring Break Travel Trend report.)

BIG CHANGES AT LA GUARDIA. Effective March 25, Delta will add 100 new flights at New York’s La Guardia Airport as a result of a slot swap deal with US Airways. Delta plans to spend $160 million on a renovation of Terminals C and D as well as a new bridge to connect them. This is big news for New York area Delta customers who are less likely to have to connect in Atlanta or other Delta hubs to get to their destinations. It won’t have much of an effect on Atlanta travelers who can already fly nonstop to most of Delta’s new destinations from LGA—but it’s a huge coup for Delta, which now seems well on its way to its oft stated goal of dominating the New York market. See Delta’s new LGA route map.

AIRPORT PRE-CHECK EXPANDING. Stay tuned for a special post about the expansion of the popular PreCheck expedited airport security screening program and how signing up for the American Express Platinum Card from links on The TICKET can help get you to the front of the line.

AIRTRAN ON THE MOVE.  As Southwest’s embrace of AirTran gets closer, AirTran flights at New York -LaGuardia, Los Angeles (LAX), Philadelphia will move to gates alongside Southwest operations. At La Guardia, flights will remain in the B concourse of Terminal B, just moving closer to Southwest’s—same thing at Philly’s Terminal E where both airlines already operate, just not side-by-side.  At LAX, AirTran will move from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1.

The fate of AirTran's Boeing 717s (pictured) may rest with Delta

DELTA GRABBING AIRTRAN 717s? Everyone has been wondering what all-B737 Southwest would do with AirTran’s fleet of Boeing 717s. While we’ve not been able to confirm this, industry buzz is that Delta’s grabbing them to replace those ancient DC9s it inherited from Northwest. (Which AirTran jet do you prefer…the 717 or the 737? Leave your comments below. )

LAST GASP FOR AIRTRAN A+. We were surprised to see the latest very generous bonus from AirTran: Triple credits for coach and quadruple credits for business on all flights to/from Atlanta. Not a bad deal at all, especially when you consider that your AirTran credits will one day switch over to Southwest—although we don’t yet know what the conversion rate will be. If you have not done so already, register here for the promo.

AXE MAN AT DELTA. Current high fuel prices require that low-yield routes be cut from airlines’ networks. This means that certain regional jet flights become vulnerable such as long, thin routes (long distance, but not enough seats on the plane to pay for the fuel). The most recent casualty is McAllen, Texas, which will lose all Delta service on May 1. Delta needed a 75% load factor to make a profit, and the airport was only delivering about a 60%. Delta has forged an agreement with American and Continental (United) to handle customers traveling from the airport after it leaves.

MORE AXING AT ATL. Tiny Vision Airlines has pulled the plug on its Atlanta flights to Louisville and Destin, and is redeploying aircraft to markets where it can make money. (Making inroads in Atlanta, with low-fare powerhouses Southwest and AirTran in full swing is not easy for upstarts like Vision.) In addition to previous cuts announced by AirTran, high gas prices are definitely thinning things out at ATL.

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THE CONVERSATION AT FACEBOOK. Over on The TICKET’s Facebook page, we are conducting an experiment: We’ve opened up the page so readers can now post their tips, observations or questions on the page. See or learn something you thing other TICKET readers need to know? Wonder why something is the way it is? Ask the 900 or so Facebook friends of The TICKET and see what happens! (Just look for the box that says, “Write Something.”)

LESS TO LONDON ON DELTA. Delta will cease serving London Gatwick airport starting April 17. Delta’s Atlanta flight and US Airways’ Charlotte flights are currently the only remaining US carrier-operated services at the airport, known for its convenient train access to Victoria Station and less congested security lines. Delta will, however, begin a second daily Atlanta-London Heathrow flight to replace it. Also being cut on April 17 are Delta’s short-lived Miami-London Heathrow flights. Customers booked on these flights will be re-accommodated on other flights as needed.

BUSINESS ELITE LOUNGE ATL CONCOURSE E. Have you seen the makeover in progress at Delta’s old BusinessElite lounge on Concourse E at ATL? One half of the lounge has been remodeled and is now open. The other half is now under construction, and should open later this spring or summer with new furniture, more power outlets, faster wi-fi.

IT’S OFFICIAL. ATL’s new International Terminal F will officially open on May 16. Keep in mind that Terminal F will complement, but not replace the current Terminal E, which will still handle mostly international flights. Stay tuned for a closer look and more info about how the new terminal is going to work in a future issue of The TICKET.

EASIER SECURITY FOR SENIORS. In a new test, the TSA says it will now allow travelers 75 and older to pass through security screening with jackets and shoes on at four airports: Chicago ORD, Denver, Orlando and Portland, ME. Based on results from this test, the policy could roll out at more airports.

SHOP AMAZON ON DELTA. Don’t feel like paying for inflight wi-fi, but need to get a little online shopping done? You can now access Amazon for free using Gogo on Delta flights. To do so, fire up your laptop, turn on wireless, and access the Delta Connect Wi-Fi portal then click on one of the Amazon banners to begin shopping. Delta Connect also provides free access to real-time travel information, news content from The Wall Street Journal and People magazine.

A Southwest Airlines 737 in California State Flag livery at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

DELTA FIRST FARES OUT WEST. With AirTran’s ATL-SFO flights switching over to all-coach Southwest flights in October, we’ve been waiting for Delta to jack up its first or business class fares—but they haven’t. For November flights, the round trip fare for a seat up front is currently in the $1400 range. Not much different than before.

CHAMPAGNE TASTE? Over on the Delta blog there’s a poll asking customers if they’d prefer French Champagne or non-French “Sparkling Wine” from other regions. So far, champagne is winning with 54% of the vote! In any case, Delta says, “we’re testing new options for circulation in late 2012 and want to know what amenities are most important to you,” so nothing is definitive yet.

DELTA-HILTON HHONORS BONUS. We are a little late with this one, but worth squeezing it in if you can. Book and stay at a Hilton family hotel by March 31 and get 2,012 bonus SkyMiles. Registration required.

NEW GO AFRICA PASS FROM SKYTEAM. This new offering opens tremendous options for travelers exploring Africa, a destination that has long been known as expensive for air travel. The new pass is available for those booking SkyTeam tickets to Africa (both revenue and award tickets are eligible). As few as three segments are required, up to a maximum of 16. Fares are calculated based on the mileage of the trip and can offer as much as 75% off the standard ticket price. Travel must be on SkyTeam’s African partner Kenya Airways, which serves 45 destinations across the continent and has set a goal for itself to serve every African capital city within the next two years.

AIRTRAN OR SOUTHWEST? Now that we have both AirTran and Southwest flying in and out of Atlanta, and even “competing” on some routes (Like ATL-LAX, PHX or LAS), but still operating two separate frequent flyer programs, which one is best to focus on? We asked Southwest and they said to focus on both: “While we can’t say yet when the two programs will be completely integrated, we are working towards a solution that will allow Members of both programs to use their current currency in either program.  We haven’t announced a date when that will occur, but I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be long after we receive our Single Operating Certificate, which we anticipate will be sometime in this first quarter. [They got the SOC on March 1.]  We believe that Members will benefit more by joining both programs which will give them better opportunity and flexibility during the time before A+ Rewards is integrated into Rapid Rewards.”

IN-FLIGHT WI-FI. Southwest has confirmed to The TICKET that as AirTran jets are converted over to Southwest, they will be outfitted with the Southwest’s Row 44 in-flight wi-fi system instead of the Gogo platform that you’re used to. Good news: Southwest only charges $5 per flight segment, no matter how long. Also, Southwest told The TICKET that Gogo will remain operational on all AirTran jets until they get their overhaul, so there will be no gaps in coverage.

Southwest's latest interiors

AIRTRAN-TO-SOUTHWEST CONVERSION. So far, only one of AirTran’s 52 Boeing 737s has been converted into a Southwest jet. The AJC reports, “The aircraft conversion will transform an AirTran Boeing 737-700 with 125 coach seats and 12 business class seats into a Southwest plane with 143 coach class seats…. In addition, the all-coach cabin will have a new layout Southwest debuted last month, squeezing six more seats onto the plane with thinner seats and less recline. AirTran’s seats are 18 inches wide; Southwest’s seats are 17 inches wide.”

DELTA WHOMPS THE WI-FI.  Delta has completed the installation of wi-fi on its 800th mainline and Delta Connection aircraft— it now has more planes flying with wi-fi than all other U.S. airlines combined! Are you a frequent user of in-flight wi-fi? Does it drive your decision when choosing carriers? How is the quality of the in-flight connections you are getting from Gogo?  Please leave your comments below.

WELL, ALMOST ALL AIRCRAFT. Delta’s international fleet is NOT equipped with wi-fi, so while you might get a ride on one of Delta’s fancy B777’s across the country, you won’t be able to log on if it’s the first or last leg of an international flight. Case in point: Delta’s popular B777 flight from ATL to LAX, which continues on to Sydney. Which would you prefer for the transcon: An upgrade to the nice herringbone business class seat… or the wi-fi?? Please leave your comments below.

MEM-AMS. Delta’s nonstops between Memphis and Amsterdam will become seasonal only starting this fall. The flights started in 1995 under a partnership between Northwest and KLM making Memphis the smallest U.S. market to have a nonstop flight across the pond, serving as a source of pride for many Memphis citizens and airport staff. Here’s the perspective from the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “The numbers don’t lie. Memphis International Airport has 28% fewer flights and a million fewer people a year walking its concourses after a dramatic downsizing by hub carrier Delta Air Lines.” And “Everyone wants to know about Southwest.”  Full story.

DELTA TO COLUMBIA, MO. Delta will offer one daily nonstop between ATL and Columbia, MO starting June 7.

NOTICING ANYTHING NEW AT AIRTRAN? On our latest AirTran flight, about the only thing that seemed different were the masked over XM Radio players. And some increasingly shabby looking business class seats that are on their way out. Are you noticing many changes as Southwest makes its mark on AirTran? Please leave your comments below!

DELTA AT JFK. Delta is making a lot of progress on its soon-to-be new home at New York JFK’s Terminal 4. Here’s a cool time-lapse video of the progress since groundbreaking.


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  • Linda DeMars

    I’m with Martin, and it saddens me.

    I just flew on Air Tran this weekend, and it was like visiting a loved one in Hospice. A sadness about everything, a longing for better times.

    There was an uncomfortable hole in the seat arm where XM radio used to be. It would seem to me that the way to win-over the Atlanta flyers would be to NOT take away until you are ready to replace it with something different or better…did the XM really need to come out before they were ready to renovate that particular plane?

    I was Air Tran Elite for some time, and although I was close to renewal before years’ end, I didn’t work to re-qualify for Elite because I was under the impression that the loyalty programs would merge in the first quarter of this year. Big mistake on my part, because it looks like I could have enjoyed the wonderful benefits for another year.

    I worked out of the Midwest for many years, and still have fond memories of Midwest Express, the all First-Class seats, the aroma of fresh-baked chocolate cookies in the cabin, and the incredible Lobster Newberg on morning flights from Detroit to Milwaukee. While Air Tran didn’t have the great food (no airline does anymore), the other amenities did remind me of Midwest Express.

    It’s so very sad that we can’t find a way to sustain an airline with a quality product and quality service.

    But, Martin, I’m not going to let the strategic gamesmanship of corporate warlords keep me from traveling! I may wish that the experience were different, and I’ll continue to favor non-US airlines for international travel. But. I’ll travel…and I hope that, in time, you will too!

  • ? martin putin

    the 717 is the better plane.

    I will fly DRAMATICALLY less once airtran is gone. 30 trips a year will go down to 3. I will NOT fly Southwest. I will not reward them for destroying the best airline next to midwest express. Also, shame on you southwest. 17 inch wide coach seat – down from an 18 inch seat at the Tran. I will not reward them. You will lose this 15 year airtran elite member in order to gain 6 seats a plane. Jerk offs !

    Delta? the attitude and treatment of customers decreases every year. A perfrctly horrible airline. dreadful. I will go to extreme way to avoid Delta.

    Upgrades on delta? HA – Ha- Ha. i had a platinum medallion next to me in the middle seat in coach. poor guy.

  • Lee Simonetta

    I continue to be impressed by the increased enthusiasm and professionalism at Delta. The employees are more engaging and it is rediscovering its southern hospitality roots. I believe that Southwest will do well with leisure travelers in Atlanta but not really make an impact on Delta as they just have too much critical mass to derail. As a frequent business traveler I enjoy the option of complementary first class upgrades even if my opportunities dimish. That is better than zero percent chance of an upgrade on Southwest. With Delta I get assigned seats and usually the option of an emergency exit row, aisle or bulkhead seat. If I travel midweek or Saturdays my probability of an upgrade dramatically increases. Lastly you can’t top Delta’s frequent flyer program, international travel opportunities and Sky Club options. Southwest may have met its match in ATL.

  • Will Mullis

    Re: Airtran and Southwest

    As previously discussed this merger does absolutely nothing for Airtran’s Elite members, it really sickens me to read above that after converting the planes from business class they only net SIX more seats – why not just LEAVE THE BUSINESS CLASS? I saw a SW plane taxiing the other day and my heart sank…All I can do is hope the plane conversions go as slow as possible. Most Atlanta-based biz travelers can’t hope to be more than Gold Medallion on Delta at best, which pretty much means nothing anymore.

    You can certainly see where the gates on C have been changed over to Southwest, have to admit they look quite spiffy. It does appear to be true that Airtran isn’t doing anything to maintain the business class seats now that they’re being phased out.

    Oh and I prefer the 717s, fewer middle seats. Everyone’s happier that way.