Clark Howard “ecstatic” Southwest buying AirTran

Clark Howard is on cloud nine since learning that Southwest Airlines is buying AirTran.

Howard, a consumer advocate and host of his own radio program on AM 750 and now 95.5FM News/Talk WSB says that Southwest’s move into Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is a huge bonus for local passengers.

“I am just ecstatic,” Howard said. “It’s like my birthday and my wedding day, the whole thing at once. This is really big. Southwest is the most important player in the airline industry and Atlanta is the biggest airport operation in the country. It’s been so weird that Southwest flies to LaGuardia, but not Atlanta.”

Why all the excitement?

Southwest, which flew only as close to Atlanta as Birmingham, will give travelers more choices to fly at lower fares. In markets where both airlines have existed — Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., for instance — fares are considerably lower than they are where only of the airlines has a foothold.

“The difference in fares is just shocking,” Howard said. “There are a lot of places where you will get a better deal.”

Southwest and AirTran said the new airline will operate from more than 100 airports and serve more than 100 million customers.

Southwest does not beat out AirTran in all areas, though. While Southwest has less expensive flights on shorter flights, AirTran is a better bargain generally for longer flights. AirTran has a more generous frequent flyer program and its credit card is better, Howard said. Southwest, however, has lower baggage fees. It does not charge anything for the first two checked bags. With Southwest in Atlanta, passengers can also expect more destinations.

Atlanta was almost an add-on in the $1.4 billion transaction, Howard said.

“Atlanta is not core to what Southwest is thinking,” Howard said.

The ability to fly more prominently in the northeast, where AirTran has had great leverage, was key to the deal, Howard said. In Baltimore, both have existed, but AirTran has “been bugging the daylights out of Southwest,” Howard said. “Now, they eliminate the flea on the elephant.”

“I’ve been hoping for this day for 20 years,” he said. “Ever since Eastern Airlines went away.”

Question: What do you think of this news? Are you glad to see Southwest come to Atlanta? Do you think you’ll find cheaper flights?

Follow me on Twitter @atlbargains and on Facebook at AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter

88 comments Add your comment

Sean Ryan

September 27th, 2010
9:51 am

Clark makes some good points, but overall, AirTran is a much more enjoyable experience, and the Southwest fares aren’t always as great as you’d expect.

Becky

September 27th, 2010
9:57 am

I have always been disappointed with Southwest’s service and treatment of passengers. It is a shame that they are coming into the Atlanta area. However, it won’t change my travel plans. I will continue to use other airlines that I can rely on when needed.

Question

September 27th, 2010
9:58 am

Will Airtran become Southwest once the deal infinal?

Flyer

September 27th, 2010
10:04 am

I’m not clear about the glee. Where the two airlines were in competition forcing fares lower for consumers, that competition is now gone. Now that the competition is gone, consumers can enjoy a steady rise in fares.

Great News!

September 27th, 2010
10:07 am

I fly twice every week—this is the best travel news I’ve heard in years!!! I’ll be flying Southwest all the time if possible. Much better prices, no fees and better service than delta!!!!!!

Bryant

September 27th, 2010
10:08 am

AirTran will become Southwest, but it will take some time before everything is integrated just like Delta and Northwest.

Many surveys list Southwest as the top domestic airline. They are much better than Delta. Richard Anderson and his management crew I am sure had a very unpleasant surprise when they arrived at the Virginia Avenue HQ this morning! I am very happy for this unexpected merger! Go for it Southwest!

delta frequent sufferer

September 27th, 2010
10:09 am

as a platinum flyer on delta… i hope this is the nail in their coffin…. i am sick of their delays, charges and attitude… this should hopefully make them feel like they have to compete.

Jborodawg

September 27th, 2010
10:10 am

Everybody wants cheap fares AND great customer service. You generally can’t have both. I’ll stay with Delta.

kinsi

September 27th, 2010
10:12 am

I, for one, am pretty sad about this. I love Airtran, and their A+ rewards program is easy to understand.

L

September 27th, 2010
10:15 am

I’m suprised that there are people who have had better experiences on Airtran than Southwest! I’ve had many terrible Airtran experiences and not one on SW. I lived in the southwest before moving here and flew them often for work and personal travel. Great prices, good customer service, free bags, free drinks, decent prices….

Martin Hymer

September 27th, 2010
10:16 am

This is excellent, excellent news. I have flown regularly for many years. Southwest is, by leaps and bounds, the best airline out there. Delta has been awful for years, and Airtran is erratic. This is just fantastic news. The poster who wrote that “Airtran is much more enjoyable experience” isn’t living in the same world I’m living in.

Jborodawg

September 27th, 2010
10:21 am

Not to mention, one can fly almost anywhere in the world on Delta. Not on SW nor Airtran. I admit DL should rethink their bag fees. Down the road this deal might force that issue. But, for overall customer service and route structure, I’ll stick with Delta; the home-town airline.

Jeff

September 27th, 2010
10:21 am

I am in the minority and cannot stand Southwest. I had good experiences with Airtran, but I will stick with Delta thank you. I love how people love to hate on Delta. My travel interests/needs range far beyond the US and the Carribean. A ton of Skymiles and literally the world is your oyster. I suppose this could be good for a budget minded person who needs to stay in the U.S.

catherine

September 27th, 2010
10:35 am

What about all the points I have racked up in Air Tran’s frequent flyer program? Will they be able to be used on Southwest too?

RamblinLonghorn

September 27th, 2010
10:39 am

Great news. I can actually fly non-stop to Austin now. Southwest isn’t the best when it comes to in air service, but they more than make up for it with not nickel and diming you: And when I say nickel and diming, I mean, Fifty and Sixty dollaring.

Brhynn

September 27th, 2010
10:39 am

Looking forward to Southwest coming to town. On short flights (2.5 hrs or less) I like a no-nonsense flight. I take my seat and fall asleep. Southwest gives me that. They are the only thing I miss about my brief stay in Florida!

milton

September 27th, 2010
10:40 am

When do the deals start or is this a long drawn out process?????????????????

jod

September 27th, 2010
10:44 am

Delta only gets hype by Georgia folk cause they are local… southwest is better by leaps and bounds.

SteveO

September 27th, 2010
10:46 am

Gee I can’t wait to fight for my seat with the sweatpanted horde.

CaribouRancher

September 27th, 2010
10:47 am

Just as Lowes has made Home Depot a better company; and vice versa I should add, this should do the same for both Delta and Southwest.

Bill

September 27th, 2010
10:49 am

Southwest sucks…compared to Airtran.

Look at this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6DdDlPT4Uc

Kpfledd

September 27th, 2010
10:49 am

I am so sad about this. AirTran is fantastic and I hate to see it go. Southwest’s boarding procedure is horrendous and their frequent flyer program is no where near as good as AirTran’s. We’ll probably head back to Delta after the merger, as much as I hate that thought!

Pam

September 27th, 2010
10:51 am

I’m so glad Delta has real competition now. This should force Delta to get it’s act together and stop f*cking over it’s customers.

Ron D

September 27th, 2010
10:55 am

Welcome, Southwest Airlines to the ATL!

chas

September 27th, 2010
11:02 am

Everyone better hold off on their glee for this merger. It is not a guarantee, as Mr. Howard, thinks that Southwest will automatically move into the Atlanta area. Southwest is a very discount air carrier and the gate and landing fees are very steep here in ATL. That is why Southwest has chosen Birmingham over Atlanta. Cheaper to fly into B’ham. Also, Southwest boarding procedures are like a cattle call, everyone line up and run to a seat.

Clark Howard is not the frugal traveler that he wants to project. I’ve seen him many times in First Class on both Airtran and Delta. His cheap tickets are sometimes comps. His cheap fares may take you to Los Angeles to get to Chicago. I personally loved Airtran. Never had any problems and their A+ Reward program was the easiest to use and understand. I hope that Southwest keeps that programs and the business class upgrade. If not, Delta will once again become my only airline.

Guy Incognito

September 27th, 2010
11:03 am

Like, “Flyer” I am worried that the fares will slowly increase, but as Caribou alluded to, competition is good for the consumer.

Besides, their commercials are better than Airtran

chas

September 27th, 2010
11:04 am

I say bring on Jet Blue!

Guy Incognito

September 27th, 2010
11:05 am

Competition with DELTA, that is

BC

September 27th, 2010
11:05 am

I will pay more to stay off a Delta plane. Welcome Southwest!!!

Phil Smith

September 27th, 2010
11:13 am

Does this mean AirTran will remove the first class cabin from their planes?

Another interesting change is that SouthWest will no longer fly just one type of equipment.

Rob

September 27th, 2010
11:13 am

Southwest says no bag fees, but if you look at their fares compared to AirTran, they are usually about $20 higher. What a coincidence…

Betty

September 27th, 2010
11:14 am

I was very disappointed that Airtran stopped flying to Charleston (which I took once a month)and to “upstate” NY. Will they expand their flights? Glad for the competition.
B

Rob

September 27th, 2010
11:15 am

Phil,

Yes. Southwest plans to remove the business class section at the front and keep their unassigned seating system. You will have to fight people for a seat depending on your boarding group. Southwest is not the lovely experience people imagine.

Bill

September 27th, 2010
11:19 am

Southwest..the Greyhound of the sky.

Dot

September 27th, 2010
11:30 am

I know everyone is excited about possibly saving a few bucks on tickets with this merger, but remember AirTran has a large employee base in Atlanta, and Southwest is based in Dallas. So, does this mean the Atlanta area will now see thousands in lost jobs? Depending on what Southwest does, this may not be the best news for the local community.

Ahnald

September 27th, 2010
11:31 am

Good News for the consumer….Would be nice if this SouthWest/AirTran team would grow some legs and fly internationally….I am sure Delta dreads seeing those SouthWest colrs at the Atlanta airport

RainingInOhio

September 27th, 2010
11:31 am

Great news! Delta has had a stranglehold on Cincinnati for many years. People would routinely drive to Columbus or Dayton to save a boatload of money. Maybe this will wake Delta up finally….now I can also spend more time in Georgia. I wouldn’t have flown Delta if you paid me.

Power to the people! I LUV Southwest!

Astropig

September 27th, 2010
11:34 am

An open letter to Delta employees and (especially) management-

It’s over. Your near monopoly of the Atlanta market is over. “Because you can” fees are over. Southwest will teach you a lesson that you won’t soon forget about competing for customers loyalty. Better get used to “a new paradigm” as they said in business school, because if you stick your head in the sand and refuse to react ,Delta will be a “Chapter 22″ airline ( thats going through chapter 11 twice) in short order.Your nuisance fees had better disappear or you will and no one will mourn your passing. The fun’s over ,time to compete.

To you surly Delta attendants ,gate agents and other assorted headcount, you had better start putting on your smiley face real soon because you DON”T HAVE US OVER A BARREL ANYMORE ! (And this is from a Delta Platinum Medallion flyer). Of course ,some Delta employees are great. They set a high standard. But the rest need to go to charm school real soon or start looking for other work.

Thank you Southwest ! Welcome !

No more delta!

September 27th, 2010
11:40 am

That’s the end of low service delta airlines for me! Their rude, arrogant employees cost them my business from now on!

Bill

September 27th, 2010
11:41 am

What is so great about Southwest other than the no bag feees?? No wifi, no XM, cattle call seating(get ready to show up early). Also Airtran had low prices. Not happy.

ATL

September 27th, 2010
11:45 am

Bill – They are run well and there is probably a reason they are the #1 airline in the U.S. by number of passengers.

James

September 27th, 2010
11:47 am

Yes. I get sick of having to choose between Delta and whoever else flies to where I want to go… With Airtran/Southwest combined, they’ll have a formidable list of destinations. Awesome.

Praveen

September 27th, 2010
11:47 am

Airtran sales are better than Southwest’s/ That makes up for the baggage fees unless you like to check in two bags instead of 1. Airtran has upgraded many of their aircrafts and business class is actually decent in recent years and has an upgrade option a lot more affordable for the middle class.

And will Southwest decrease flights from atlanta to certain destinations Airtran offers since Atlanta is not the center of their strategy? Whenever I check Southwest sites to book tickets from other cities, I don’t see their sales that attractive unless one plans way ahead and goes with their 21 day non refundable option. Airtran had just a great 10 day window for many sales.

I wish Clark Howard wasn’t so simplistic with his praise of this. Remember, with Airtran, atlanta was king and we benefited from this with no need for one stop flights. We were able to get a lot of direct flights. With Southwest, will they reroute some of the lnger flights via one of their existing hubs??? I have no idea, but I doubt Altanta travelers will be occupy the top spot in their strategy as they did with Airtran.

Light

September 27th, 2010
12:00 pm

Nic

September 27th, 2010
12:04 pm

This is great news for international travelers, now we can fly Southwest to NYC airports with our bags and take advantage of Delta fares on international flights.

Praveen

September 27th, 2010
12:04 pm

Say goodbye to reasonable fares for NON STOP flights to the west coast because if one reads between the lines, Southwest may make Atlanta travelers take connecting flights at one of their existing hubs in Texas or some other central time zone place.

Very Frequent Traveler

September 27th, 2010
12:05 pm

DELTA=Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport! I travel twice a week and avoid Delta like the plague! I am an avid fan and an elite flyer of Air Tran! I a have flown Southwest with no complaints. I say: “Welcome Southwest! I am glad you are here!”

Dave Todd

September 27th, 2010
12:15 pm

Yes – but here’s the deal. Southwest likes fast and easy arrivals and departures and does not use hub systems. What does that mean to ATL? My take, Southwest will move into the ATL market but will NOT offer all of Airtran’s 200 nonstop flights from ATL. They will curtail routes that are redundant with Delta and those that Southwest already serves from their other major cities. Southwest will continue to fly to Airtran’s destinations and more from ATL – but that doesn’t mean without a stop or connection in other major Southwest cities like Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis and Dallas. Southwest has an excellent flight pattern that Airtran’s hub is going to be “repositioned” to meld with. Southwest cannot afford to keep a “hub” – because Southwest passengers like the service Southwest provides without a “hub” airport. Southwest has many focus cities, but has not and never will want to utilize a hub service system.
So in reality, Southwest will change Airtran’s “hub” operations here and ATL is ultimately going to not have a Southwest “hub” per se. Instead ATL WILL gain Southwest’s excellent operations and low cost service, however, nonstop service will not include all of Airtran’s destinations. Yet, this will still allow Southwest to drive against Delta dominance in this city which is just too strong!
Southwest’s main reason for Airtran’s purchase/merger: Southwest gains Airtran’s 20 new cities, eastern low cost territory, and eliminating competition – not to mention gain ATL service.

Mic

September 27th, 2010
12:21 pm

“Atlanta is not core to what Southwest is thinking,” Howard said.
It doesn’t matter what Howard said, it matters what the CEO said. ATL, DCA, LGA, BOS that is the core of the deal.

Chris

September 27th, 2010
12:43 pm

The competition will be good, however Southwest isn’t always the cheapest by a long shot. Also I don’t know what new destinations he imagines will appear out of this.