AirTran’s final flight touches down

AirTran Airways’ final flight from Atlanta to Tampa landed late Sunday night, as the carrier’s name disappears into history.

The plane took off at 10:25 p.m. from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s gate C3, with some 400 employees, former employees and customers gathered at the gate to celebrate the final departure. More employees lined up along the tarmac to watch the takeoff. Hundreds more greeted the plane after it touched down in Tampa.

AirTran’s name is being retired four years after Dallas-based Southwest Airlines struck a deal to acquire AirTran Airways. Southwest officials said the final flight commemorates AirTran’s departure and the nearly complete integration of operations into Southwest.

“It’s like a commencement,” Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said to employees celebrating on Concourse C of the Atlanta airport. “It is the close of an era, but now it is the opening of an all-new future.”

AirTran Flight 1 on Sunday night traced the route of the carrier’s first flight in 1993. Many employees and customers hoped for one of the 117 seats on the flight, with more than 740 on the standby list.

Scott Doose, a passenger who came from Little Rock for the final flight, said he thought AirTran “always had excellent last-minute fares.”

“I’m glad it’s being celebrated,” he said. But, he added, “It’s disappointing to see another airline disappearing in consolidation.”