Southwest says airfare will lower if major purchase is approved

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Southwest Airlines is acquiring AirTran. Southwest say it means lower fares for you.

Southwest is the largest airline flying from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, serving an average of 3500 passengers a day. The main reason they pulled the trigger on the $1.4 billion AirTran deal, airline officials say, was to get access to Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport.

So with their eyes on a major hub just a couple of hours away, Southwest promises to continue serving Birmingham, but whether that's more or less service is a question they're not yet ready to answer. With the Atlanta hub only a half-hour flight away, some local travelers are worried the merger could mean fewer direct flights from Birmingham to other cities in the southeast, and more flying through Atlanta to get almost everywhere else like Delta travelers have to do now.

"We have a very strong successful route network in and of itself, including Birmingham," said Linda Rutherford, a Southwest spokesperson. "So it would be way too premature to be worried about what service levels might or might not look like."

Dr. Larry Harper is a Samford University business professor who studies the airline industry. He said, "I don't see the routes to New Orleans or Louisville, the ones that are successful, disappearing."

Dr. Harper says there may be a benefit for Southwest fliers out of Birmingham. "Adding the AirTran schedules to that gives us as consumers from Birmingham better options to get to international places on low-cost airlines."

Rutherford said, "We see that our current destinations are going to have access to markets they haven't been able to fly to before. We see that as a way we can be able to offer more low-fare destinations, extend the network."

Despite Southwest's reassuring sound bites Monday, one frequent flier isn't so sure this will help.

"It'll probably mean prices go up, which isn't good because I don't make that much money," said Justin Stokes
Stokes said he thinks there could be some benefits if Southwest ends up adding routes to Birmingham because of this merger.

The airline thinks it will take months for federal regulators to approve the deal. If it's approved, it could take up to 2 years to complete.

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