Southwest Airlines is another step closer to becoming one with AirTran – with the expected issuance of a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration this week. Ultimately, the merged carrier will be known as Southwest, but full integration is still years away.
Southwest announced its acquisition of AirTran in September 2010. Southwest has long been a favorite of budget-conscious travelers and is one of only two U.S. carriers to offer free bags (JetBlue is the other).
Passengers Won’t See Many Changes – Yet
Although Southwest called the FAA certificate “a monumental step,” this will have little if any immediate impact on passengers although as The Dallas Morning News points out, it’s a signal to Southwest that their employees can start repainting AirTran planes with Southwest’s signature livery.
However, Southwest has a long list of other chores to complete like integrating workforces and eventually, combing websites though AirTran.com and Southwest.com will remain separate entities for some time to come. As one Southwest executive notes, “the transition to a single ticketing system is a large and complex process that will take several years to complete.”
Southwest Opens New Routes, Makes Gate Changes
One change Southwest customers have already seen is the opening of new routes and destinations, including several new daily non-stops from Atlanta, long an AirTran stronghold – as well as headquarters for Delta.
Another thing travelers will start noticing starting this year, is the transitioning of AirTran gates to Southwest. Watch for these changes beginning at Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport in August.