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AirTran Announces New Routes

Just days after revealing it will be acquired by Southwest, AirTran announced a new route and increased service to a number of cities. Strange? A little, but more on that in a second. First, let’s look at what’s new.

  • New daily service from Tampa to Key West
  • Three additional daily nonstops between Phoenix and Milwaukee
  • Two additional daily nonstops between Akron, Ohio, and Orlando
  • Two additional daily nonstops between Milwaukee and Tampa
  • Two additional daily nonstops between Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico

So why is AirTran doing this, knowing, as we now all do, that it will likely disappear in the next 12 to 18 months? There are a few possible explanations.

For starters, the acquisition isn’t over until it’s over. While it’s highly unlikely the deal will hit any snags, let alone collapse, it’s in AirTran’s (and Southwest’s) best interests to stick with business as usual throughout the process. AirTran needs to keep flying, so to speak, lest stockholders get antsy. And if the merger were to fall apart, AirTran would certainly want to emerge ready to compete again. Bolstering primary markets (Milwaukee) and leisure routes (Tampa, Key West, San Juan) is a good way to stay steady and viable.

Further, one can’t help but notice this service fits well into Southwest’s route map, notably the routes from Milwaukee and Tampa.

Currently, Southwest only flies one daily nonstop between Milwaukee and Phoenix. Assuming these new routes carry over, Southwest will end up with four daily nonstops between Phoenix—which happens to be a key airport for Southwest—and Milwaukee—which happens to be one of AirTran’s focus cities. Makes sense.

Same goes for Milwaukee-to-Tampa. Southwest flies one daily nonstop. Add two, and suddenly Southwest is flying quite a few nonstops to Florida from one of AirTran’s more solid bases. That’s a lot of capacity from Milwaukee, but likely reflects Southwest’s desire to seize control now that one of the city’s main low-cost options is disappearing (beacuse Southwest ate it).

Akron, Key West, and San Juan are all cities Southwest doesn’t serve. Key West and San Juan seem like good additions to Southwest’s offerings, particularly the Baltimore-San Juan route, considering Southwest’s dominance at BWI. Akron seems redundant considering Southwest already serves Cleveland.

None of this is meant to suggest Southwest influenced the new routes, directly or otherwise. The new service makes sense from AirTran’s perspective alone. But it’s not a stretch to say the new routes complement Southwest’s current service rather nicely.

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