How Will The Southwest AirTran Acquisition Affect Travelers?

How Will The Southwest AirTran Acquisition Affect Travelers?


The airline landscape is set to change again, a common occurrence in recent years as airlines merge, fail or launch. These days, mergers seem to be the biggest news as most weak airlines have already left the scene and few new ones are risking getting started in a challenging economy.

In late September 2010, Southwest Airlines announced that they were acquiring AirTran Holdings, the company behind AirTran Airways, a competing discount air carrier. That move will eliminate an important competitor for Southwest, but how will consumers be impacted?

That question being asked by some as limited competition typically does one thing: drive up prices. However, given Southwest Airline’s proven business model, i.e., offering discounted prices and important amenities as free baggage check, there shouldn’t be too much disruption for travelers.

Here are some things to look for leading up to the closure of Southwest’s deal for AirTran:

New Routes — Southwest has been expanding into new markets, but the acquisition of AirTran will take Southwest much further faster. Key West, Akron and Bloomington are three markets AirTran serves which will become Southwest destinations. That also means Southwest’s exclusive 737 fleet will soon include smaller 717 jets, perfect for smaller airports. Boston, Baltimore and LaGuardia will be new markets too, served by the larger jets.

Baggage — Southwest promises to maintain its successful baggage strategy, i.e., offering two checked bags for free. That means AirTran’s policy of charging $20 for the first bag, $25 for the second bag and $50 for additional bags is history.[1]

Seating — AirTran offers reserved seating, something Southwest does not offer and will not include on former AirTran routes. Look for business class to go away too — Southwest offers all-coach class only and will stay that way after the merger.

Reservations — Change a reservation AirTran and you’ll pay $75 for the privilege of switching. That fee will be rescinded as well.[2]

Unions — Both airlines have unionized pilots, but are affiliated with different unions. Fortunately, pilot seniority at AirTran is lower than at Southwest which should make for an easier transition. AirTran pilot salaries will increase under Southwest, but will those added costs be passed on to the traveler or absorbed through increased load levels?[3]

The newly expanded Southwest Airlines will, based on current operations, have nearly 43,000 employees and serve more than 100 million customers at more than 100 different airports across the U.S. Southwest promises to continue with its plans to add the long range Boeing 737-800 to its fleet, an aircraft that will allow coast-to-coast flights and perhaps introduce flights to Canada, Central America and beyond.


[1] USA Today: Southwest to retain free bag checking after completing AirTran merger

[2] The Dallas Morning News: Quick resolutions expected to hurdles in Southwest Airlines-AirTran deal

[3] The Wall Street Journal: Southwest, AirTran Pilots To Meet, Discuss Impact Of Merger


Consumer Traveler: Southwest-Air Tran?

Source: Southwest Airlines


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Categories: Consumer Tips

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".