27 September 2010

Airlines - Southwest Airlines to buy AirTran

This is a big deal in the airline industry.

A Really, Really Big Deal.

Southwest Airlines has announced that it is going to buy fellow low-cost carrier AirTran.

This is not a "merger of equals" or anything like that.  This is one very big fish acquiring a pretty good-size fish.  The merger process itself, and the much larger Southwest that results, will be far more interesting than the United-Continental merger.  Southwest is clearly in the driver's seat: the airline name and culture will remain Southwest, and yes, bags will continue to fly free!

Southwest will obtain a much larger presence in the Northeast through AirTrans slots in airports like LaGuardia (New York) and Reagan National (Washington, DC), not to mention a major presence in a huge market where it currently has no presence whatsoever: Atlanta.  (Atlanta is AirTran's single busiest airport, although the airline's administrative headquarters is in Orlando.)

Southwest likes to operate an all 737 fleet but they will get both 717s and 737s as part of the deal.  (Southwest has said it intends to continue operating the 717s.)

AirTran's presence on the Pacific coast is negligible, with flights serving San Diego, Los Angeles (LAX), Las Vegas, and Seattle.  Depending on the city, the service from these points is to Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Baltimore.

What I find especially interesting is that AirTran does operate some international service (Cancun, Nassau, Montego Bay, Punta Cana, and Aruba) as well as service to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  On its own, Southwest has never operated internationally (or anywhere outside of the 48 contiguous states) although it has been making noises about the possibility lately, and is supposed to begin a code-share with Volaris (a Mexican low-cost carrier) in the future.

Care to know more?

- See Southwest's new website specifically devoted to the acquisition
- factsheet with facts, figures, and fancy about each carrier and the new Southwest that will emerge

For airline junkies this is a pure thrill.  Congratulations to both carriers to pulling this one off without the rumor mill getting word out prematurely.

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