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.
Pets in cabin $75; Pets as cargo: $0; Unaccompanied minor: $50
Pets in cabin: $65; Pets as cargo: $0; Unaccompanied minor: $49
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:
Southwest was also voted the best for consumer on-time flight estimates (domestic) and best for its luggage policy.