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Southwest deal could mean lower fares

Discussion of what the merger means for you

Southwest Airlines' purchase of AirTran for about $1.4 billion could mean lower fares for travelers in the Washington region and across the country.

Southwest officials said the deal could "inject needed low-fare competition" into the local market. The airline said it intends to create "hundreds of additional low-fare itineraries for the traveling public" with operations in more than 100 different airports that will serve more than 100 million customers.

Southwest already accounts for more than half of BWI's market share and in the past year has seen a 15 percent increase in flights in and out of Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. AirTran is the second-largest airline at BWI, and already has slots at Reagan National Airport, a transportation hub where Southwest has sought to establish a presence in past years.
AirTran handles about 4 percent of passengers at National. Slots at National are especially desirable because of its proximity to downtown Washington. Both airlines also serve Dulles International Airport.

Earlier this year, Southwest officials cheered a decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation that would require Delta and U.S. Airways to sell slots at National so that they would be allowed to swap slots at the Washington airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport.

The merger means Southwest Airlines Co. gets more exposure to existing markets like New York and Boston and it can get into smaller markets it doesn't already serve.

Officials said the airlines will operate independently until the merger wins regulatory approval and the deal closes, with no change in operations. However, in the long term, Southwest official plan to integrate AirTran into its culture.

Officials said Southwest intends to maintain its fees policies, which differentiate it from most other airlines. Currently, Southwest does not charge a fee for the first or second checked bag. AirTran charges $20 and $25, respectively. Southwest also said the combined airline would likely not charge change fees and would offer one class of service.

Southwest also said AirTran service to Mexico and the Caribbean would allow Southwest to evaluate flying international routes.

-- Washington Post staff and wire reports

By Michael Bolden  | September 27, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Airlines, Airports, Aviation  
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