Huffpost Travel

Will Southwest Airlines Take Over Atlanta?

Posted: Updated:

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines Co. executives say Delta's hometown of Atlanta could become Southwest's top city within a few years after the company buys AirTran Airways.

CEO Gary Kelly also said that Southwest likely will buy new, larger planes from Boeing that would allow it to fly to Hawaii. The airline will need federal approval to fly the long over-water route to Hawaii with the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Kelly and other Southwest officials talked about the company's plans at its annual media day on Thursday.

Hawaii would provide a plum destination for regular Southwest customers redeeming their frequent-flier credits, and Atlanta is a key market for business travelers.

Southwest doesn't fly to Atlanta right now, but AirTran operates about 200 flights a day there.

Executive Vice President Bob Jordan said Thursday that Southwest will augment AirTran's Atlanta service with flights to 20 or more cities where AirTran doesn't fly.

"It's easy to get to kind of 250-plus" daily flights while still being a distant second to Delta Air Lines Inc. in Atlanta, Jordan said.

Las Vegas is Southwest's top city, with 224 daily departures as of Aug. 15.

Kelly was a bit more guarded, saying he wasn't ready to predict that Atlanta will surpass Las Vegas and Chicago on the Southwest schedule, "but I think that's a fair guess."

That's assuming Southwest can keep AirTran's passengers. Some AirTran business travelers have groused online about the prospect of losing first-class seating and other perks not offered by Southwest.

Southwest made inroads against US Airways in Philadelphia and is taking on United in Denver. Now it will go head-to-head against Delta, the world's second-largest airline.

"You would assume that there is no way they would just sit back and do nothing," Jordan said. "This is going to be a fight."

Southwest announced last month it would buy AirTran Holdings Inc. for $1.4 billion.

The airline also gave more details about its partnership with Mexico's Volaris.

Beginning Nov. 12, travelers will be able to book travel to Mexico from about 20 U.S. cities served by Southwest. The cross-border flights will be operated by Volaris from Los Angeles, Oakland and San Jose, Calif.

And the Dallas-based airline set a price of $5 per flight for onboard Internet access. There's still no way, however, for customers to see on Southwest's website whether their plane will be among those outfitted for WiFi. Southwest says it will notify passengers by email if their flight is equipped with WiFi. It plans to have WiFi on 60 planes by year-end.

Kelly said the company expects to raise $5 million to $10 million per year from its WiFi service. He said user rates are low, but customers will come to expect the service, and Internet access will open up other forms of in-flight entertainment.

Around the Web

Low-fare king Southwest to buy AirTran for $1.4 billion - USATODAY.com

Southwest-AirTran deal means more options for some - Yahoo! Finance

Southwest Risks Keep-It-Simple Focus to Spur Growth - BusinessWeek

AirTran Gets Some Southwest Love - Forbes.com

Southwest-AirTran merger: What will it mean for ticket prices ...