Southwest and Air Tran moved another step toward functioning as a single airline Thursday.
The Federal Aviation Administration approved a single operating certificate for the carriers, which marks an important milestone for the integration of both airlines.
Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said passengers will start to see the conversion of the AirTran fleet into a Southwest fleet, which include changing the paint scheme and interior configuration on planes and serving more cities.
The complex transition to a single ticketing system for the carriers is expected to be completed by 2015, Hawkins said.
“Basically, for the customer there is no difference,” he said. “It means for us internally that we have a [go-ahead] from Uncle Sam to pull all these partitions [together].”
FAA, Southwest and AirTran addressed a couple of regulatory changes on Thursday, including that the Southwest Airlines air carrier operating certificate will be amended to read, “Southwest Airlines Co. and/or AirTran Airways Inc.,” and that both airlines will operate under one set of FAA operations specifications, he said.
“We are moving toward where Southwest and AirTran will be connecting their networks,” he said.
According to Southwest officials, this means passengers will be able to book a flight with Southwest and a connecting flight with AirTran, or vice versa. “Creating more combinations until all planes will sport the Southwest livery,” added Hawkins.
For now, said officials, AirTran will begin round-trip flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Mexico City on May 24.
He said in anticipation of receiving the single operating certificate, Southwest recently announced two daily non-stop flights between Atlanta and San Francisco starting on Sept. 30, which will change from an AirTran to a Southwest route.
Southwest, said Hawkins, has also started to change AirTran aircraft. He said that started on Feb. 24 and “it’s about a 40-day process.”
He said the conversion includes painting, interior and avionics. The aircraft is currently in Seattle and is being worked on by a third-party vendor, he said.
The aircraft will have features such as leather seating and a satellite-enabled Wi-Fi, which is currently being offered at an introductory rate of $5, he said. This will allow passengers to use Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
“It’s a definite higher bandwidth, which allows us to offer Wi-Fi connectivity over water,” said Hawkins.
AirTran provides Wi-Fi through their partnership with Gogo, according to AirTran’s website, www.airtran.com. Gogo’s inflight prices range from $4.95, to $12.95.
Southwest currently offers 15 non-stop flights to five cities from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The cities and flights include: Four daily round trips to Baltimore,and Chicago; three daily trips to Houston; and two daily trips to Denver and Austin, Texas — a destination previously not served by AirTran.
On March 10, Southwest will start two more non-stop flights to and from Hartsfield-Jackson: to Las Vegas and Phoenix. The airline will offer one-way fares for $109 for both destinations until April 7.
A daily non-stop flight to Los Angeles will begin on June 10, at Hartsfield-Jackson. This is an addition to the three daily flights already operated by AirTran.
Thom McDaniel, president of Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants Union, said AirTran flight attendants will soon transition to Southwest, due to the single-operation certificate.
“As we move forward, we are excited about combining our work forces, with special attention to preserve the legendary culture of Southwest,” he said.