Southwest Airlines has announced it will launch service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) on February 12, 2012, promising to bring greatly reduced fares and new flexibility for both business and leisure customers.
With introductory fares for nonstop travel to and from ATL starting at $79 one-way (not including taxes and government fees), the first Southwest Airlines flights to and from Georgia will also mark what the carrier says is a significant and eagerly anticipated milestone in its acquisition of AirTran Airways.
“We’re bringing especially great value to those of you who travel last-minute,” Southwest President, Chairman, and CEO Gary Kelly told an audience of business leaders during a luncheon with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. At the luncheon, Kelly revealed details of Southwest’s initial schedule to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
“Here in Atlanta, our fully refundable, walk-up fares will be, on average, more than 30 per cent lower than anything currently in these markets,” said Kelly. “And we are bringing the flexibility Southwest customers already enjoy in other cities because we don’t charge a $150 fee simply to change your plans.”
From Atlanta, Southwest initially will offer 15 nonstop departures each day to five destinations: Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Chicago Midway (MDW), Denver (DEN), Houston Hobby (HOU), and Austin, Texas (AUS) – a route not previously served by AirTran Airways.
Southwest Airlines has begun selling fares on each of the five routes on its website, www.Southwest.com. Not including taxes and fees, one-way fares between Atlanta and Austin start at $99 and the carrier will operate two daily round-trips on the route.
The carrier has scheduled four daily round-trips between Atlanta and Baltimore/Washington International ,with one-way fares beginning at $79, not inlcuding taxes and fees.
Southwest will offer two daily round-trips between Atlanta and Denver International Airport, with one-way fares beginning at $99. It will initially operate three daily round-trips between Atlanta and Houston Hobby, with one-way fares starting at $99; and four daily round-trips between Atlanta and Chicago Midway, with one-way fares from $79. Taxes and government fees are additional in each case.
The sale fares are available for purchase through September 5 at 11:59 p.m. PDT, and travel must take place between February 12 and March 9, 2012.
“We’ve said all along that this deal to bring AirTran’s people, planes and places into the Southwest family is about offering more – more destinations and spreading more low fares farther, through the strength of our network,” Kelly told the Atlanta business leaders.
According to Southwest, the nonstop flights make possible additional direct or connecting service between Atlanta and 48 destinations on the carrier’s network. The inaugural schedule also brings, for the first time, one-stop/no-change-of-plane service between Atlanta and Dallas Love Field on Southwest Airlines.
In a first step toward blending Southwest’s and AirTran’s frequent-flyer programs, Kelly also announced that, from August 22, top-tier members of both carriers’ programs – A-List members of Southwest’s All New Rapid Rewards and elite A+ members of AirTran’s A+ Rewards – will enjoy limited reciprocal benefits when flying on either carrier.
A-List benefits include extra Rapid Reward points, Priority Boarding, access to priority security lanes, and more. Southwest A-List and A-List Preferred members booking on AirTran will get Free Business Class upgrades, no baggage fees, and all other benefits that AirTran’s elite members enjoy.
Most U.S. airline-industry observers have been expecting Southwest Airlines to announce an Atlanta service launch following completion of its acquisition of AirTran Airways, which is the second-largest carrier at ATL, the world’s busiest airport.
The news that low-cost leader Southwest Airlines, which carries more U.S. domestic passengers than any other carrier, is also launching service in its own right at Atlanta to build on AirTran’s existing presence there is unlikely to be welcome to Delta Air Lines.
Delta, which has the biggest schedule at ATL, already faces considerable fare pressure at Atlanta from AirTran Airways and Southwest’s presence will subject Delta to additional fare competition. Southwest’s unit costs are consistently lower than those of Delta, enabling it to create and sustain fare competition against ATL’s largest incumbent.
Given Southwest’s consistent pattern over the years of increasing its schedule at unconstrained airports once it has established an initial presence, U.S. airline-industry observers also expect Southwest to add more flights over time to the combined AirTran-Southwest schedule at ATL, to make Hartsfield-Jackson one of the most important destinations in Southwest’s network.
Eventually Southwest and AirTran will become one airline under one operating certificate. Since AirTran already oeprates an extensive international network to the Caribbean, the operational merger will give Southwest Airlines an international route network for the first time.
Atlanta is likely to feature strongly as a major international hub destination for Southwest. The airline has ordered Boeing 737-800s in order to be able to serve Hawaii from the U.S. West Coast and potentially to increase its international-network reach from major focus cities to destinations throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Canada.
With the addition of Atlanta, Southwest will serve 73 cities in 38 states. Based in Dallas, Southwest currently operates more than 3,400 flights a day and has more than 35,000 employees.