Today Southwest Airlines announced that it would buy AirTran, Atlanta’s second largest air carrier. This comes as little surprise to The TICKET…we talked to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly about a move in to Atlanta last year!
Here’s what you need to know:
1. GOODBYE AIRTRAN. This is not a merger or a partnership. Southwest is buying AirTran for $1.4 billion, so AirTran will disappear. It will not be operated as a subsidiary. Signage, airplane paint, uniforms, everything will be Southwest. Headquarters will be in Dallas, TX, but flights to/from AirTran’s largest hub, Atlanta, should remain mostly unchanged.
2. BE PATIENT. The deal requires approval from the government, and it will take a while to close, so don’t expect overnight changes. The two airlines will operate separately for many months to come—probably for at least one year.
3. NO BAGGAGE FEES. While AirTran charges fees for checked baggage, Southwest does not charge for the first or second bag and has said this policy will remain in effect. Delta charges non-elite flyers $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second. That’s an extra $120 round trip if you check two bags. To remain competitive at ATL, I expect Delta to offer more ways to get around that fee, similar to the current promo that waives the fee for those who charge tickets on certain American Express cards.
4. GOODBYE AIRTRAN BUSINESS CLASS. Many frequent travelers have come to know and love AirTran’s business class product. (Including me!)
It offered relatively easy and cheap upgrades to some big seats at the front of the plane. Southwest offers ONLY coach seating, and has said that it will continue to offer only a one-class product. That means we’ll have to kiss those big seats goodbye. Too bad.
5. PREMIUM FARES WILL SOAR. If you’ve enjoyed discounted first class fares on Delta on routes to the West Coast (or elsewhere) where it competed with AirTran, you can expect those to evaporate. For example, AirTran charged about $1000 round trip for a business class seat to LAX, SFO and SEA and Delta matched it for its first class. I would not be surprised to see those premium fares climb up to $2000+ without a competitive product in the market.
6. CATTLE CALL BOARDING. UGH! It’s going to take some time for AirTran flyers to get used to Southwest’s boarding process, derisively known as the “Cattle Call.” Southwest does NOT offer advance seat assignments. So it’s first come, first served. This means travelers must check in online exactly 24 hours before their flight to be among the first groups allowed to board. (Big hassle!) Those who check in late, board late and get stuck with middle seats and limited overhead bin space. Not fun. To appeal to business travelers, Southwest recently introduced “Business Select” fares, which cost more, but get you into the first group allowed to board. You can also pay an extra $10 each way “Early Bird” fee to get to the front of the line.
7. NO CHANGE FEES! One of the most beautiful things about Southwest is that it does NOT charge change fees. (But it does ask travelers changing tickets to pay any fare differential.) AirTran charged $75 to change a ticket, plus the fare differential. Southwest says this onerous fee will go away.
8. WATCH ATL-DFW FOR FARE INCREASES. Once the deal closes, CEO Kelly says Southwest will not offer nonstops between Atlanta and Dallas. This will leave ATL-DFW in the hands of just Delta and American. Expect fare increases.
9. FREQUENT FLYER PROS & CONS. Southwest says that it will ultimately merge the AirTran A+ program with Southwest Rapid Rewards. Luckily, both programs are based on flight credits, and not miles flown. The combining of the two programs is probably better news for current members of Southwest’s program because they will now be able to earn and redeem their points on flights AirTran routes to Mexico and the Caribbean. However, Southwest Rapid Reward points are good for TWO years as opposed to AirTran’s 12 months, so that’s a positive for A+ members.
Wondering where you can fly? Compare route maps here:
10. >THE NEWARK CARD. Southwest recently announced that it would serve Newark, an airport AirTran left last year. This resulted in Delta and Continental raising mid-week fares to $800+ round trip. If Southwest launches ATL-Newark flights, travelers should expect reasonable fares to return.
UPDATE: One more important thing to know: Southwest does NOT participate with online fare comparison sites such as Expedia or Travelocity, or with metasearch sites like Kayak. Its fares are ONLY listed on southwest.com. So Atlanta travelers are going to have to get used to doing TWO online fare searches— one on a comparative site, another on southwest.com.
COMMENTS PLEASE!! What do TICKET readers think about this huge news?? Good or bad? Let’s hear it! Leave your comments below.
Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET! It helps us help you!
Just click here:
airtran.com | delta.com | Hotwire
Originally, from NY but currently residing in Atlanta for college I fly back and forth all the time and most times it was extremely last minute. In these cases the Airtran U program came in handy. It allowed me to surprise my family and go home for special occasions. The program was extremely low-priced which was great for college students like myself. Now idk if i’ll be able to afford these new prices! I’m not too sure I’ll like this merge. 🙁
Good question. I think it means that you’ll end up with cheaper fares to OK, but not necessarily nonstops. –chris
David B says
I wonder how this is going to work in markets that Airtran didn’t fly into. For instance… flying to Oklahoma City or Tulsa required me to fly Delta at often very high fares. I could fly Airtran into Wichita or Dallas and rent a car or hitch a ride at a fraction of the cost. Does this mean that Southwest will fly directly into OKC and TUL from ATL now since they currently serve those markets?
kalin thomas says
Thanks, for all of this great info on the Southwest/Air Tran deal. Very informative. Hate the idea of the “Cattle Call” but looking forward to good fares and good service.
I’m a loyal Delta medallion member that moved to the west coast 5 years ago. It’s tough to stay loyal to Delta in California w/o expecting connections on most flights.
I fly Southwest for short hauls. Vegas, SFO etc. Except for the boarding process (no assigned seats) Southwest does a great job. Friendly flight attendants, clean planes. They load the planes quickly and never had a problem using my Rapid Reward points for a free tickets.
I still like Sky Club, upgrades to First Class and all that Medallion status, but DL needs to worry about Southwest entering the ATL market.
While we keep hearing that AirTran Biz Class will be going away nobody has mentioned the greater Southwest seat pitch vs. AirTran coach seating.
AirTran 717 – 30 inches
Southwest 737 – 32-33 inches
Which would you prefer?
YES! FINALLY!!! You know what this means, right? Delta is going to be quaking in its’ boots! Seriously, they’ve got to be mad that after all of their efforts to keep Southwest out of major cities like Atlanta, it was all for nothing! At the end of the day Southwest has sent the message that if they couldn’t obtain gates in cities like Atlanta then they’ll just gobble up a pre-existing airline that already has gates in that city! How about that?
Wow, I can’t wait!
How does SouthWest treat those with flying conditions? I have a severe fear of flying, and need at least a window seat or i get paranoid and claustrophobic.
AirTran would allow me to book a seat at a window. How would SouthWest handle this?
I’ll go back to Delta. I have no interest in the cattle call, even if it’s “not so bad.” As for the affordable flights to the west and elsewhere, we’ve had them with AirTran along with the business option! Southwest is great is you don’t have any other low fare airlines in your market, but we’ve had AirTran which kept Delta honest on at least some routes. ATL based flyers are losing in this deal!
I am wondering what will happen to the AirTran Visa card. I use it for everything to build points, including a bunch of recurring charges for utilities, insurance, etc. Anyone have any info on what will happen to the Visa card?
This is VERY BAD NEWS. Any loss of competition is very bad news.
Our cost will only go up.
Plus, Southwest really sucks for business travel.
“Cattle call” is much more appropriate for the crazy zone boarding on the legacy carriers (especially United and Delta) where everyone mobs the corral near the gate door waiting for their zone and blocking the elites and earlier zones! Plus, everyone is tripping over carry-ons of people trying to avoid the checked bag fees. If anything, Southwest is the opposite of cattle call because it’s so orderly and quicker with the numbering system compared to the cattle call zone boarding by legacies!
“Cattle call” is much more appropriate for the crazy zone boarding on the legacy carries (especially United and Delta) where everyone mobs the corral near the gate door waiting for their zone and blocking the elites and earlier zones! Plus, everyone is tripping over carry-ons of people trying to avoid the checked bag fees. If anything, Southwest is the opposite of cattle call because it’s so orderly with the numbering system compared to the cattle call zone boarding by legacies!
Don’t worry about the Cattle Call. Having worked on the West Coast for quite some time, I can tell you it’s not unusual for someone in a multi-day conference to log in at the 24-hour mark and check everyone in the conference in time to get the first boarding call. And if not- heck, with the capacity issues to the west coast the last couple of years all you’re offered on Delta is a middle seat anyway, so what’s the big deal?
I’m very much looking forward to Southwest flying out of Bloomington, IL. We live near Peoria, and that’s much closer than driving to Chicago to fly to Nashville. Hopefully, Southwest will fly from Bloomington Normal to Nashville.
Aaahh, too bad, Art! I am loving the fact that SW will be flying out of Atlanta now! I’m from AR, and I’d fly home then drive. It’s so much cheaper on SW!
Bummer. I fly both Southwest and AirTran regularly, but I was upset by the news of the purchase. Between the United and Continental, this one, and the Delta/Northwest merger that finalized earlier this year, the consumer is going to pay. Increased fares are on the horizon. American is going to look to make a move next.
As an Elite customer on AirTran, I love the ease with which upgrades are made and the frequency of them. I receive upgrades on 3 out of every 4 flights. Those big business class seats are a blessing when you travel frequently, especially on the cross-country hauls. Both Southwest and AirTran offer superior customer service compared to the other bigs airlines, even ones that I have status with (Gold with Delta). Beyond my concerns for increased fares, which is inevitable because Southwest and AirTran both fly to many of the same destinations, is the concern that Southwest may begin to cut down on a number of its nonstop routes (i.e. Tampa to Chicago-Midway) by inserting layovers in Atlanta. Hopefully, they will keep a couple of these non-stops going.
For those saying they are happy that SW is taking over – we get it! But we already have the choice to fly SW and we don’t choose them. This now takes one airline we like out of the mix and we are stuck choosing an airline that we didn’t want in the first place.
Alan Platner says
SW has proven to be a very worthwhile opportunity. Prices, service personnel, rewards, all tops. Delta better watch out. As retired multi million miler, now siver, I never get an upgrade, so don’t get big seats ever, except when I pay for overseas. FLL (home) to ATL will be easier!and cheaper.
Mike Hillwig says
I’ve become a fan of Southwest over the past few years. Sure, flying them takes some adjustment. But when you learn the quirks of their system, you can almost always get that A boarding pass.
I now live in Tampa and have been flying Southwest for the past five years. Out of Tampa, almost all of my flights have departed on time and many have arrived early. The customer service is outstanding. Of the dozens of flights that I have taken, I have had only one experience where a Southwest employee was mean or rude. Usually, Southwest employees go out of their way to be helpful. The no charge to change a ticket feature is great. Also, there are no extra charges to book flights over the phone (800-I-LUV-SWA and, of course, your first two bags fly free.
Airtran is a good airline. I have flown them several times and was pleased with the experience. However, they are not in the same class as Southwest. Give it some time Atlanta. You’re going to really LUV the experience.
Hey Bob: Thanks for your comments! Glad you are reading The TICKET. Here’s what CEO Kelly said in the Dallas paper today:
During a news conference at Southwest’s Love Field headquarters to announce the deal, Kelly was very clear that AirTran’s current service out of D/FW will end once the deal closes.
“In accordance with the Wright Amendment, we will not serve D/FW,” Kelly said, adding that Southwest will not approach local or federal officials to try to change the details outlined in the Wright Amendment agreement, which allows Southwest to start flying non-stop routes to any destination out of Love Field in 2014.
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/09/27/2497116/southwest-airlines-to-buy-airtran.html#ixzz10mKw1AfV
Your reference to the Wright Ammendment is incorrect. SWA cannot operate ATL to DAL (Dallas Love Field) but can surely continue ATL to DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth Intl.) The Wright Ammendment only pertains to Love Field, stating aircraft with more than approx 65-70 seats can only operate to a destination within the state of Texas or any adjacent state. SWA may choose to axe DFW, but there is no regulatory requiremnt to do so.
Thanks for the great comments! But I’m a BIG fan of Southwest Airlines…but they’ve got a few features that business travelers grouch about.
Kathy Moore says
I have a feeling you’re not a fan of Southwest. As someone who drives two hours to Nashville to fly SW, I am a big fan! For the people who won’t have a first class section with SW, there are many more people who will be able to afford to fly to the West coast, or anywhere. Southwest truly makes flying affordable and as pleasant as possible during these times. The “cattle call” is a breeze and very efficient. Southwest is able to land, deplane, load new passengers and be on their way in 30 minutes or so. If you have to cancel your flight, what other airline holds ALL your money in reserve until your next flight? The $10 early bird fee is well worth it! Yeah, Southwest!!
Will Mullis says
As a very loyal Airtran flier, with a corporate account that allowed for upgrades, I HATE that my only choice for a comfortable premium seat will now be Delta or one of the other “majors”
Karla Linden, NMT, LMT says
Very interesting news. I lived in Atlanta for 25 years, and moved to Albuquerque, NM 2 years ago. Southwest is wonderful with its website and ability to change flights with no penalty. And the “Cattle Call” is not so bad. For $10 extra per flight you can be in the first group to board. I’d like to see the prices drop from the West into Atlanta.
via email from LCB:
This is very bad news. My husband is a million-miler with Delta, which by itself, provides nothing but lifetime silver (also nothing) status, so we’ve been very loyal to AirTran in Atlanta due to their flexibility with standby and great business class fares and upgrades. We’ve been elite with them for a couple of years now and while I love Southwest for what it is, this buyout certainly makes a mess out of options out of Atlanta. Guess we better use our points for Caribbean business class flights during the next year and go back to paying Delta prices.
Phil Brown says
VERY interesting. The implications for Delta are staggering. My concern is more provincial, since I now live in one of AirTran’s secondary markets (Bloomington, IL). Southwest has not historically maintained large hub configurations like AirTran’s operation in Atlanta. While the arrival of Southwest would be a boon for our downstate Illinois community (AirTran helped make it the largest airport in the state outside of the Chicagoland area), I’m equally concerned that Southwest might cut secondary markets like BMI.