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.