Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways Surprise

Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways Surprise

Southwest Airlines has entered into an agreement to buy AirTran Airways and the two airlines are expected to combine once AirTran stockholders and government regulatory agencies approve the merger. While this isn’t a done deal and it might take up to two years to complete, it looks like the merger will go through and AirTran Airways will become Southwest Airlines.

The acquisition will allow Southwest Airlines to expand into new markets, including Atlanta domestically and international destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

Southwest Airlines also has an agreement with Volaris and intends to allow international connections to Mexico with that airline by the end of the year.

For now, nothing will change and both carriers will continue to operate independently. After the necessary approvals are received and the merger closes, Southwest Airlines will begin the process of integrating the two airlines and A+ Rewards members will be welcomed into Rapid Rewards.

AirTran currently charges bag fees of $20 for a first bag and $25 for a second bag and a flight change fee of $75. Southwest says all of these fees will be discontinued after the merger. AirTran also offers two classes of service, business and coach, and only one class of service will be offered after the integration into Southwest.

Southwest Airlines also has plans to launch a new Rapid Rewards program, so expect even more changes in 2011. Visit for more information.

Bottom line: Mergers are a fact of life, and even more so in the current economic climate. Although this announcement came as a surprise for many, it’s not surprising in the overall picture. Southwest has been chasing partnerships with airlines that will get them to Mexico and other international destinations and this is just another path that they could take. AirTran currently serves 72 cities while Southwest serves 69; of those, 32 are common airports. The combined airline will operate from more than 100 airports and serve more than 100 million passengers. Southwest will be a strong competitor for Delta in Atlanta so frequent flyers there will have two very different airlines and frequent flyer programs from which to choose. The merger will also strengthen Southwest’s presence in New York City and Washington, D.C. AirTran currently serves Dallas/Ft. Worth’s DFW airport, but these operations will be moved to Love Field when the acquisition is complete.

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