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What the Southwest-AirTran Deal Means for You

Cameron Huddleston

Atlanta travelers will benefit most if the acquisition is approved.



Southwest Airlines announced today that it will buy rival AirTran Airways. Until the deal is closed, don't expect any changes to the way either of the airlines operates, according to www.lowfaresfarther.com, a site launched by Southwest with information about the transaction. If the deal wins antitrust approval, here's what travelers can expect:

More routes for Southwest. If Southwest picks up all of AirTran's routes, it will serve more than 100 markets -- including the nation's largest airport in Atlanta and Carribean destinations, such as Aruba, Bahamas and Puerto Rico. It also will be easier for travelers to get where they're going because there will be more rerouting options if there is a cancellation or delay, says Airfarewatchdog.com president George Hobica.

Slight rise in Southwest fares. AirTran's fares generally were a little cheaper than Southwest's, Hobica says. And AirTran had more sales on fares than its larger rival. Hobica says he expects fares on Southwest flights to creep up slightly after the deal is closed.

Lower fares or fees on Delta. Atlanta is Delta Air Lines' hub. So AirTran's Atlanta route would be a big score for Southwest -- and a big headache for Delta. "Delta's losing a sickly airline that had to compete solely on price" and getting a big competitor that can compete on price and service, Hobica says. So he expects Delta to lower fares or eliminate some fees on Atlanta flights that will compete with Southwest's new routes. "It's great news for Atlanta fliers," he says.

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Continuation of Southwest's policies. AirTran charges $20 for the first checked bag, $25 for the second and $75 for any changes made after ticket purchase. These fees would be eliminated after the deal is closed, according to lowfaresfarther.com, because Southwest does not charge these fees. Southwest will extend its no-seat assignments policy to AirTran routes and eliminate business-class seating on those routes. Southwest will merge AirTran's A+ Rewards members into its Rapid Rewards program.

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