Southwest Airlines will buy AirTran for $1.4 billion, creating the most expansive network of any low-cost carrier in the U.S. and giving the feisty airline a chance to grab business travelers in the nation's busiest markets.The deal would give Southwest its first flights outside the continental United States by continuing AirTran's service to Mexico and the Caribbean.
If the merger is approved by regulators, Southwest will for the first time go head to head with Delta on its home turf at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International, the busiest passenger airport in the world. It will gain access to Reagan Washington National Airport and capture increased share at Boston Logan and New York LaGuardia.
The deal to purchase AirTran will give Southwest a footprint in virtually every large and midsize U.S. city.In addition to gains at major portals such as LaGuardia and Reagan National, Southwest would pick up AirTran's service at Charlotte and Memphis and its large operation in Atlanta.
Among the other 38 airports that AirTran serves but Southwest currently does not: Miami, Des Moines, Wichita and outside the U.S. in Cancun, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Aruba.
"America needs this now," says Tom Parsons of BestFares.com. "With this deal you can now go just about anywhere in the country, and to the Caribbean and Mexico, on Southwest. ... All the legacy airlines will have to set their prices based on whatever Southwest does."
Some travelers were pleased with the prospect of a broader route system that gives them more appealing destinations when they redeem their loyalty program points, as well as the chance that Southwest's entry into new markets could drive down ticket prices at other airlines as well.
AirTran's planes will also become a single coach class, like Southwest, and be painted in Southwest's colors.