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: