What Southwest buying AirTran means for passengers

So, which is better, Southwest Airlines or AirTran Airways? That may depend on what you consider “better.” Prices. Customer service. Convenience. Here’s a guide that may help you decide:

Q: Which airline is cheaper?

A: Southwest Airlines keeps its costs low because of its “on the ground efficiency,” said Clark Howard, consumer advocate and AM 750 and now 95.5FM News/Talk WSB radio host. Over a longer flight, that costs savings disappears in favor of AirTran, Howard said.

Q: Does this mean baggage fees go away?

A: Southwest does not charge anything for the first two checked bags. AirTran charges $20 for the first checked bag, and $25 for the second.

Q: What about other fees?

A: One of the best fee comparative websites is TruPrice.net.

Southwest:

Pets in cabin $75; Pets as cargo: $0; Unaccompanied minor: $50

AirTran:

Pets in cabin: $65; Pets as cargo: $0; Unaccompanied minor: $49

Delta:

Pets in cabin: $125; Pets as cargo: $200; Unaccompanied minor: $100

Q: Will I have a seat assignment?

A: Southwest Airlines boards passengers in groups. When your group is called, you board the plane and select a seat of your choice. AirTran assigns specific seat numbers.

Q: Which of the two airlines has the better frequent flyer rewards program?

A: AirTran awards (A+ Rewards) a free one-way flight per every four roundtrip coach flights taken in a year. That means you do not have to fly a select number of miles; rather, your reward is calculated by the number of flights taken. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards allows a free roundtrip after eight roundtrip flights taken within 24 consecutive months. Eventually, AirTran’s A+ Rewards customers will merger into the Rapid Rewards program.

Q: Will we continue to see the weekly sales from low-fare airlines?

A: Answering that question would be speculation at this point. However, at least some industry experts are leery. Consolidation means fewer competitors in the market. As a result, there could be less pressure to keep prices low.

Q: Which of the two airlines services more cities?

A:AirTran serves or has announced service to 72 cities. Southwest currently has service in 69 cities, with three more coming in 2011. Of those, there are 32 common airports. Among the new locations for Southwest will be Atlanta, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Mexico and the Caribbean.

Q: I hate changing planes. Which has more nonstop routes?

A: Southwest, by far, has more nonstop routes with 461 compared to 177 by AirTran. Southwest and AirTran said the new airline will operate from more than 100 airports and serve more than 100 million customers.

Q: Which carrier has the better fleet of planes?

A: AirTran has a fleet of 86 Boeing 717 aircraft. Those airplanes are smaller than the Boeing 737s operated by Southwest. Southwest plans are larger and have more leg room, but Southwest could add AirTran’s 52 Boeing 737-700s to Southwest’s total of nearly 550 737s, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Q: Does Southwest have business class seating?

A: Southwest has what it calls Business Select. For a higher fee, passengers can get priority boarding, a drink voucher, extra Rapid Rewards credits and priority access to the ticket counter and security checkpoint. AirTran’s business class seating includes larger and more comfortable seats in addition to other business class perks like waived bag fees and priority seating.

Q: How long will it be before the companies combine?

A: This will be a lengthy process that could take up to two years to complete.

Q: Where do they rank?

A: The 2009 Zagat Airline Survey covered 16 domestic and 73 international airlines, as well as 30 domestic airports. The survey included the opinions of nearly 6,000 fliers.

Here are the results of the best value for domestic airlines:

Best Value – Domestic

  1. Southwest Airlines
  2. JetBlue Airways
  3. Continental Airlines
  4. American Airlines
  5. Delta Air Lines

Southwest was also voted the best for consumer on-time flight estimates (domestic) and best for its luggage policy.

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

12 comments Add your comment

Mark

September 27th, 2010
1:33 pm

This also means Atlanta is losing AirTran’s access to Dallas for a few years while the world waits for Love Field to be loosened up in Dallas.

Steven

September 27th, 2010
1:53 pm

you told us the difference but not really what this deal means to us the consumer. Gee thanks

Hugo

September 27th, 2010
2:10 pm

The most significant change for AJC readers would be that Southwest would gain access to Atlanta through AirTran’s gates. The result should be increased fare competition in the nation’s busiest airport.

Daphne

September 27th, 2010
2:20 pm

Still don’t know what this means for the consumer. I am a frequent Airtran customer and I like my home town airline just the way it is. I hope Southwest’s acquisition of the airline doesn’t drive me to Delta. That would be disastrous.

Cherokee

September 27th, 2010
2:33 pm

What Daphne said. If you like being herded like cattle, and fighting for a decent seat, you’ll love Southwest.

HBTD1966

September 27th, 2010
2:39 pm

Daphne – AirTran has their headquarters in Orlando. They have not been an Atlanta home town airline since they were ValuJet. The new headquarters will be in Dallas.
Mark – Good point about Dallas. Access to DFW will end as flights from Atlanta are moved to Love Field.

Bobby

September 27th, 2010
3:05 pm

I look forward to Southwest in Atlanta. They are great for going to Oklahoma City and not being robbed by Delta. Friendly flight attendants and excellent customer service. Boarding is the only complaint I would possibly have with Southwest but I’ll take them over Delta and Delta’s current arrogance toward passengers with all their extra fees.

Phil

September 27th, 2010
3:14 pm

As an Airtran Elite member, I am very depressed by this news. I have really enjoyed my Elite perks the last few years and I thought it was the best loyalty status in the airline industry. Now I may have to start from nearly nothing to earn Delta Medallion status. As a frequent business traveler, there is no way I will fly on the Southwest ABC cattle drive. I hope Delta will offer some form of incentive to entice Airtran Elite customers.

F. Flyer

September 27th, 2010
3:35 pm

Hugo
September 27th, 2010
2:10 pm
The most significant change for AJC readers would be that Southwest would gain access to Atlanta through AirTran’s gates. The result should be increased fare competition in the nation’s busiest airport.

Not really. You are replacing one airline with another. If Southwest entered the market in addition to AirTran, then maybe there would be increased competition.

Phil 2

September 27th, 2010
9:53 pm

I too have Elite status with Airtran and am none too impressed with this merger. I love the perks from Airtran and have gone out of my way to fly routes on Airtran that require a drive at my destination rather than flying some other brand direct. The only saving grace would be 1) this merger fails or 2) Delta scoops up the frequent fliers from Airtran and offers them a bump up in their Medallion status.

Lee WeeklyBusiness Traveler

September 28th, 2010
10:25 am

I am also one of AirTran’s Elite members. I travel app. 38 weeks a year and for the last 3 years I go directly to AT website to buy my tickets, without even looking elsewhere for pricing options. I am already making a plan after the first of the year to begin building status on another airline that will be able to service my travel needs, because I will not buy into the Southwest model; it just doesn’t fit what i’m looking for; those little perks end up making all the difference when you have to climb onto a plane every week. I truely hope that other airlines out there will see this opportunity to sweep up the most loyal type of customers from the AirTran Southwest merger, this being the nearly everyweek business traveler. US Airways, American, Delta…. here I am…. take me away!

Jason

September 29th, 2010
12:59 am

I work in sales and live in Atlanta and fly Airtran 2-4 times a month. I have been extremely satisfied with AirTran operations and in particular the Elite program. As an Elite member I’ve been able to get a free upgrade to business class 40 minutes prior to departure I’d say around 75% of the time. The XM radio on all flights is great too. Very few delays, only 1 delay for ‘mechanical’ in probably 100 flights. My biggest gripe with Airtran is that they often don’t display a correct departure gate for ATL flights.
The Elite program is simply awesome. It’s a simple and straightforward program and it works great.

To hear that AirTran is “removing” business class from their airplanes?? Are you kidding me? And no assigned seats? Ha….goodbye! My business is all east of the mississppi river and Airtran has excellent coverage in this area…which incidentally is where 2/3 of the population lives. This merger may be great for AirTran’s vision but for an AirTran Elite customer based in Atlanta, IT SUCKS!!!!!