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Southwest Airlines will service Hartsfield-Jackson in February

Southwest Airlines will begin operating 15 non-stop flights daily, to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, on Feb. 12, according to a spokesman for the airline.

Brad Hawkins said Southwest will offer flights to five cities, including four daily roundtrips to Baltimore, Md., and Chicago, Ill.; three daily roundtrips to Houston, Texas, and two daily roundtrips to Denver, Colo., and Austin, Texas — a destination not previously covered by AirTran Airways, which was acquired by Southwest.

Hawkins said the airline is offering a promotion for these destinations for people traveling next year, from Feb. 12, to March 9. Fares start at $79 each way for Baltimore and Chicago, and $99 each way for the other cities. People can purchase a ticket online until Sept. 5, by visiting Southwest’s web site, www.southwest.com.

He explained that travelers can connect to 48 other destinations within Southwest’s network from the chosen cities. Overall, the airline will serve 73 cities in 38 states with the addition of Atlanta, he added.

The spokesman said Southwest revealed its Atlanta start date during a recent Metro Atlanta Chamber luncheon.

“We’ve said all along that this deal to bring AirTran’s people, planes and places into the Southwest family is about offering more — more destinations, and spreading more low fares, through the strength of our network,” added Gary Kelly, CEO, president and chairman of Southwest.

Hawkins said the inaugural schedule will also include a one-stop flight between Atlanta and Dallas’ Love Field Airport in Texas, where the airline is headquartered. Passengers will not change airplanes on their way to The Lone Star State, he said.

Southwest closed its purchase of AirTran Holdings Inc., the former parent company of AirTran Airways, on May 2, he said.

On Feb. 12, he said, AirTran will operate 175 flights a day in Atlanta, compared to the 220 flights per day it is currently operating.

Southwest’s conversion of the 140 aircraft bearing AirTran’s logo and colors will begin the first quarter of next year, said Hawkins. Southwest currently has a fleet of 550 Boeing jets.

“We’re bringing especially great value to those of you who travel last-minute,” added Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. “Here in Atlanta, our fully refundable, walk-up fares will be, on average, more than 30 percent lower than anything currently in these markets.”

Kelly said, aside from Southwest’s flexibility, customers will also take advantage of no fees for simply changing their destination plans after having purchased a ticket.

Hawkins said once Southwest begins operations at Hartsfield-Jackson, passengers can take advantage of other perks, including no fees for checking their first two bags.

He said top-tier members of Southwest’s Rapid Reward’s and AirTran’s A+ Rewards programs are now eligible for some limited, exchange benefits, when flying on either Southwest or AirTran.

The AirTran brand will slowly disappear after the inaugural schedule begins, he said.

Southwest will start a small operation in Atlanta, compared to AirTran, said Hawkins. “That is how we typically open every city,” he explained.

Hawkins said Southwest is not a hub-and-spoke operation, but, instead, is a point-to-point carrier. Basically, he said, the airline does not rely on hubs to connect passengers to their destinations. Rather, passengers travel short distances with few connecting flights. He said on a map, Southwest’s network “is more of web, instead of a star burst.”

“People can expect for [AirTran’s] Atlanta hub to look and operate differently, once it is converted,” he said. He said the entire merger will take roughly two years to be fully completed.