Meehan: AirTran-Southwest Merger Won’t Hurt Airports

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By Tom Smith

The 33 airports currently served by AirTran will likely retain service once the proposed merger of AirTran with Southwest Airlines is completed.

SH&E President Deborah Meehan

During a presentation Tuesday morning to the 19th ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition, SH&E’s Deborah Meehan said the 33 airports that don’t have overlapping service with Southwest should not be impacted. Those few routes between city-pairs now served by both carriers will be evaluated, she said.

While many of these cities are now smaller markets that Southwest has been entering, Meehan said for Southwest it is now “all about getting people to the grid.” Yet to be determined if Southwest will continue the hub-and-spoke system that AirTran has developed or re-arrange the system to model Southwest’s point-to-point network.

Many of these smaller markets are served by AirTran’s Boeing 717 fleet. Meehan sees Southwest accelerating the replacement of these smaller planes so that can continue to focus solely on the Boeing 737.

The one market that is in question, Meehan said, is Milwaukee where AirTran had been building a beachhead against Frontier Airlines (the former hometown Midwest Airlines) and Southwest is the third low-cost carrier now in the market.

With the merger, Southwest will gain its first international flights as it takes over AirTran’s Caribbean routes. It is likely that Southwest will again look to Canadian transborder route, she said, but it will probably grow it international service cautiously until it fully understands this part of the business. WestJet and Southwest were to have entered into a code-share arrangement this year but the two firms could not overcome the IT obstacles, she noted.

Once the merger is completed, Meehan predicts that the larger Southwest will have an impact on the services and fees charged by the network carriers forcing them to reduce their al chart service fee schedule. In an effort to compete more network carriers will drop the fee for the first piece of stowed luggage and will again provide a free light snack on their longer flights. The competition will force the network carriers to be more “creative” in the services they provide – and also charge for, she added.