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Fri, Aug 05, 2011

AirTran To Leave Four Small Markets

Airline Says Decision To Drop 'Underperforming Markets' Not Made In Haste

While Congress leaves the FAA financially crippled arguing over the issue of whether to subsidize empty seats on turboprops flying to small towns, it looks like four more cities might become candidates for the so-called Essential Air Services program.

AirTran Airways, which is preparing for a merger with Southwest, has issued a news release which says it will drop service to Asheville, NC; Atlantic City, NJ; Moline/Quad Cities, IL; and Newport News, VA.

In the case of Asheville, which had service to Orlando, the move eliminates duplication. Southwest began service in March at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina, (GSP) which is only 55 miles from Asheville.

USA Today reports overlapping service is also a factor for Newport News-Williamsburg International, with Southwest already serving Norfolk, only 30 miles away, and AirTran already serving Richmond.

AirTran has served the Quad City International Airport for 15 years, but is currently down to just one daily non-stop flight connecting with Orlando.

The cut in service to Atlantic City was simply a matter of an underperforming market, according to AirTran.

When pressed by USA Today on the matter of Southwest CEO Gary Kelly's promise that the combined airline would "make every effort" to retain service to small cities, AirTran spokesman Chris White replied, "All decisions of this magnitude are evaluated with our long-term goals in mind. While the primary reasons for this decision are the current economic reality and high fuel prices, we must also take into account the long-term effect of these types of decisions on the newly combined company.

"It is important to reiterate that this decision, while difficult, has been under consideration for many months and even before our two airlines came together."

The cuts are effective January 6, 2012 for at Asheville, Atlantic City, and Quad Cities, and March 9, 2012 at Newport News. AirTran says the small number of customers who've already booked travel from affected cities after those dates will be contacted directly and "reaccommodated," and that employees affected will be offered work elsewhere within the company.

FMI: www.airtran.com

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