AirTran Merger May Bring Southwest To Wichita

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A lot Mid-Continent flyers and the city of Wichita would like to see Southwest Airlines replace the AirTran Airways signs with their own. But Southwest is saying, be patient. "Customers won't see any immediate changes," Chris Mainz, a Southwest Airlines spokesman said.

That's not necessarily what everyone wants to hear. For years, the city of Wichita has courted Southwest while trying to get the airline to land here. Now that Southwest has completed its purchase of AirTran Airways, and some AirTran employees can be seen celebrating by wearing Southwest colors, there is a hope that the "king of discount airlines" will finally land in the Air Capital.

"Well, we haven't made any immediate or hard decisions about what our service will look like in cities where we don't currently operate,"
Mainz, said.

But for a merger to make economic sense, the acquiring company has to see value in what the company it is acquiring has. In this case, local leaders are hoping Southwest finds that the routes AirTran flies from Wichita are valuable enough for them to move here. Air Tran has three daily flights to Atlanta.

"There are a lot of attractive, appealing markets out there that we don't serve today that we have never served, but that we are interested in serving. I would think it's fair to say Wichita is certainly on that list."

It would seem that the only thing closer to definite he could say, would be if he said the move was official. But, it isn't. Wichita City Manager Bob Layton said the city doesn't have a commitment yet, and he was not able to talk with Southwest officials while the merger was pending.

Layton said it is the city's intention to work with Southwest to make them comfortable with serving Wichita and expanding service here. He said he does not know if Southwest will insist on subsidies like AirTran has now.

It will take some time to see changes if a decision is made. For now, it is business as usual. From a business or corporate standpoint Air Tran is merged with Southwest Airlines. But it will still be months before any signs at the airport change, or before AirTran's planes are repainted with Southwest's colors."

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