Southwest, AirTran Closer to One Airline – But Will Bags Still Fly Free?

Although Southwest announced it would acquire AirTran three years ago – and took ownership of the smaller carrier in May of 2011 – a complete merger into what air travel expert Rick Seaney called “a single ultra-sized low-cost carrier” is still about two years away. But a lot has happened.

Fee Changes for Southwest, AirTran

Free Bags – For Now

When the merger was first announced, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said no big policy changes were planned for either airline, and that’s largely been true. AirTran still charges a fee to check a bag, and Southwest still famously gives passengers two checked-bags for free (JetBlue is the only other U.S. airline to offer a free bag).

Recently though, Kelley said, “Never say never” when asked if Southwest would ever add a first or second checked-bag fee. This was discussed at the tail end of its 2012 fourth-quarter report on earnings which as USA Today reported “fell by nearly half as the company faced higher costs on fuel, labor and maintenance.” There is some good news: Kelly did say there are no plans to add bag fees in 2013. But new fees are coming.

New Southwest Fee

As FareCompare reported last month, Southwest will soon charge a $40 early boarding fee for those who wish to jump to the head of the line. This is a kind of companion fee to the airline’s $10 EarlyBird cut-in-line fee, but the latter must be purchased in advance and the $40 fee is only available at the airport gate.

Which Two U.S. Airlines Fly the Most Passengers

Southwest Takes Over AirTran Cities

Over the past few years, we’ve seen AirTran disappear from some cities with, in some cases, Southwest picking up the slack. The most notable recent example is Grand Rapids; Southwest will absorb AirTran’s routes to Gerald Ford International and double daily service beginning in August.

More Integration

As CEO Kelly  noted, Southwest is “on track to begin testing connecting itineraries between the Southwest and AirTran networks in a handful of markets” and they expect to expand these efforts significantly in the coming months.

And As the Bureau of Transportation Statistics points out, Southwest and AirTran still report such statistics as on-time arrivals and departures as separate carriers, though this will change when integration is complete.


Updated: February 10, 2016