Southwest Buys – The Foxes Worry

My first words to Helaine this morning: “Did you hear about Southwest?” Southwest is buying AirTran.

I saw the story while laying in bed trying to avoid starting my day. We are big Southwest customers/fans. This story will impact us at some point.

Though Southwest is the biggest passenger carrier in the U.S. it always operated smaller. It’s tough not to notice more passenger/employee interaction and the ability of line employees to make their own decisions. I don’t want to see that gone.

One of Southwest’s strengths has been its dependence on Boeing 737s. Though they fly a few different 737 models it’s my understanding that using just one type of aircraft added flexibility in maintenance, crewing and scheduling. Southwest used to brag about that.

AirTran has 86 Boeing 717s. These are fine planes, but they’re different. You can’t use 737 parts on a 717 nor a 737 crew! That’s less, not more flexibility.

Beyond that the more I read the better this sounds. Flightglobal.com reports:

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the carrier has decided it wants to keep and operate the 717, and will operate the smaller aircraft in a single 117-seat configuration. Currently AirTran operates its 117-seat 717s in a dual class offering.

No math necessary. Removing first class and maintaining an identical seat count means more leg room in coach!

When it comes to bag fees, change fees and assigned seating Southwest says,

  • Upon full integration, it is our intent to have a consistent product offering. It is our intent that the bag fees would not be part of that product.
  • Upon full integration, it is our intent to have a consistent product offering. It is our intent that the change fees would not be part of that product.
  • Upon full integration, it is our intent to have a consistent product offering. It is our intent that seat assignments would not be part of that product.

It looks like Southwest wants AirTran’s culture absorbed into theirs. Easier said than done. People are people. No one likes change. Someone will feel slighted. Employee discontent spreads more quickly than the common cold! Wanting and accomplishing aren’t necessarily linked.

As mergers go I’m pretty happy. AirTran opens Southwest to loads of new cities with very little overlap, like Atlanta.

AirTran serves 38 airports not served by Southwest and Southwest serves 37 airports that AirTran does not serve.

Southwest says this will be a ‘fleet neutral’ acquisition. They’ll still need all the planes and crews.

I’ve never heard of an acquisition this size with no reduction in force. That’s usually a big reason mergers and acquisitions take place. Maybe I’m missing something? We’ll see.

8 Responses to “Southwest Buys – The Foxes Worry”

  1. Lou Lange says:

    Let’s hope Southwest keeps its word. I have always said that airline deregulation way back when was a mistake.

  2. meredith says:

    Here’s hoping Southwest eats AirTran and not the other way around. I personally would love to see AirTran disappear off the planet, expecially if it’s replaced by an airline that at least pretends to give a damn about its customers.

    I’m currently dealing with the reality of United (the world’s worst airline, one I’ve been actively avoiding for going on 10 years now) eating Continental (slightly less evil airline, where I have “elite” status). I’m down to 3 airlines I can fly for my work now, but once the United/Continental acquisition goes through I’ll be down to two: Southwest and Delta. For someone who travels for a living, this is not a good situation to be in At All.

  3. daf says:

    there almost certainly will be a reduction in force @ the management level and in other overhead functions. They bought the planes, gates, routes and certain tax advantages

  4. Jim says:

    I wonder if this means SWA will now fly out of White Plans as AirTran does now.

  5. Josh says:

    I flew AirTran a couple times this year on their standby program (one of the last to remain in the country.) It was for students aged 18 – 23 only and no check-in baggage was allowed. For $70 one-way to West Palm Beach (and any other destination in the US) from Westchester Airport last minute in June- it was a steal!

    I was a little nervous driving to the airport being uncertain as to whether I would be able to board or not. I walked into the airport without anything but money. The guy at the counter informed me that I would probably be able to baord but no guarantees! I only found out 2 mins before the gates closed after all the passengers had boarded. I even got exit row seats and some complimentary ‘gourmet pretzels’! -> http://twitpic.com/1zbm87

    Being Indian-American, buying a one way ticket without checked in luggage, and paying cash of course led me straight to TSA’s friendly “secondary screening” procedure. But I liked the standby program so much I decided to fly it again returning from Palm Beach a couple days later for a total trip cost of $150. I almost considered upgrading to ‘business class’ for $70 on the way back since I saved so much.

    The inflight GoGo WiFi service was excellent. Although the flight to Palm Beach was under 2 hours, the price for a Mobile device like an iPhone is only $4.95 – a small price to pay (like a starbucks drink) to be entertained for a couple hours.

    Westchester Airport in NY was only an hour away from my place in CT (less distance than Bradley) and seemed very efficient and not at all chaotic like the NY Airports. Interesting sign I saw at the parking garage – http://twitpic.com/20sizr. That is one area where its lacking – parking at long term cost me $28 a day and apparently is often filled to capacity! Guess the average AmEx Black Customer doesnt care…

    Hope Southwest retains some of AirTran’s perks and looses some of its less appreciated cost containing moves.

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