Southwest-AirTran deal: A timeline of two airlines

A history of Southwest and AirTran:

1967: Texas investors incorporate Air Southwest Co., a commuter airline serving that state.

1975: Company goes public, name changes to Southwest Airlines.

1979: Southwest expands its reach beyond Texas, flying to New Orleans. That kicked off a long-steady route expansion.

1993: ValuJet Airlines is founded in Atlanta to fill a void in the air travel market after the collapse of Eastern Airlines.

1996: After fast growth and strong financial performance, the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 aboard, prompts government to temporarily ground the carrier.

1997: ValuJet, struggling since its resumption of service in late 1996, moves to buy a small Florida-based carrier called AirTran. It takes the AirTran name and Orlando headquarters as part of the merger. The new AirTran grows steadily, buys new planes and becomes a financial star in the industry.

Sept. 27, 2010: Southwest announces it will buy AirTran and enter the Atlanta market by taking over its hub here.

March 23, 2011: AirTran shareholders approve the sale.

March 28, 2011: AirTran airport workers and reservations agents vote to unionize, saying they don't want to go through a merger with Southwest without union protections.

April 26, 2011: The U.S. Department of Justice approves the merger, clearing the companies to close the deal.

May 2, 2011: Southwest officially closes its deal to acquire AirTran Airways.

August, 2011: Southwest announces a round of AirTran route cuts, saying it will discontinue flights from Atlanta to Atlantic City, N.J. and Newport News. Va. It announces additional AirTran route cuts in subsequent months.

August 22, 2011: Southwest announced it will begin flying to Atlanta Feb. 12, with routes to Ustin, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Denver and Houston Hobby, begins selling tickets and launches an advertising blitz in Atlanta. It announces additional Southwest route additions from Atlanta in subsequent months.

September, 2011: Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly tells the AJC that he plans to transform's AirTran's hub into an operation concentrating on travelers going to and from Atlanta, rather than on connecting passengers.

November 21, 2011: Southwest discontinues AirTran's flights from Atlanta to Dallas to comply with restrictions in an archaic federal law called the Wright Amendment that applies to Southwest and Dallas Love Field in Texas.

December, 2011: Southwest discloses it is removing XM satellite radio from AirTran flights.

Feb. 12, 2012: Southwest launches its first flights from Atlanta, with routes to Austin, Baltimore, Chicago Midway, Denver and Houston Hobby. It operates a total of 15 daily flights on the five routes.

What next?

Southwest and AirTran expect to get a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration around March 1, which will give them the clearance to begin combining flight operations.

More Southwest routes will launch from Atlanta in the coming months. Southwest plans to launch routes from Atlanta to Las Vegas and Phoenix in March, to Los Angeles in June and to Norfolk, Louisville and Seattle in August.

Meanwhile, Southwest plans to gradually transition AirTran to its brand, repaint the AirTran fleet in its livery, combine frequent flier programs and bring AirTran employees into the fold. All that could take two years.

About the Author