Browsing Tag: AirTran

Two airlines become one. Image from Southwest.

I am sure by now you have heard the news that Southwest Airlines is buying AirTran. For me, it was bad timing, since this week has been insane and I haven’t been able to read and absorb this huge news until today. Better late than never right? The benefit, is I get to share some great thoughts from other people as well.

Not that long ago I was questioning if Southwest was eying to buy Sun Country. Ha…I will a little off. Southwest was planning something a little bigger. Yes, the new and bigger Southwest still can’t compare in size with the new Delta and soon to be new United, but Southwest is king of US low cost carriers and this transaction makes them the undisputed champ.

This buy out is huge since AirTran is not a small airline. AirTran has over 8,000 employees and 138 aircraft. To compare Southwest has almost 35,000 employees and 547 aircraft. Southwest is obviously larger, but this will be a huge under taking, since both airlines are quite different.

Here are some of the “big” questions that I keep seeing about the buy out:

* What about the new aircraft type? Southwest previously has only flown Boeing 737’s. AirTran flies both Boeing 737’s and Boeing 717’s. Southwest has stated they will continue to fly the Boeing 717 on shorter routes. Seeing the Southwest livery on a Boeing 717 is quite exciting for most airline nerds and I very much look forward to it.

* Will Southwest start international flying? There has been talk about Southwest flying internationally before this buy out, but they can quickly transition since AirTran already has a few international flights. Southwest confirmed they will be updating their reservation system and move forward with additional international flights.

* Will business class stick around? AirTran has business class, Southwest does not. Southwest will be removing the Business Class seats from the AirTran aircraft and go all economy.

* Is open seating going to stick around? Yes. Like it or not, the open seating will continue to be a unique Southwest trait.

* Southwest won’t start fees will they? No. Southwest is well known for no baggage fees, no ticket changing fees, etc. That will continue to stay the same (at least for now).

* Getting access to Atlanta for Southwest is big right? Very much so. Access to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which is the busiest airport in the world, is a biggie. AirTran build a strong presence at ATL and now Southwest will have instant access to compete directly with Delta.

This just goes to show who the heck knows what Southwest will do in the future. They are now flying to larger airports, going internationally and have multiple aircraft types. It used to be pretty easy to predict what Southwest would do, but now they have gone rogue. I don’t think that is a bad thing and it for sure makes things a bit more interesting.

There has already been so much said about this buy out and I want to share some of the best opinions out there:

* Brett Snyder via his blog CrankyFlier and on BNET has done a great job looking at this merger from a number of different angels:
First look at the merger
Frontier and other airlines will benefit from this merger
6 Reasons why this merger is a good idea
4 Reasons why this merger is a bad idea

* Dan Webb on Things in the Sky has a few quick thoughts on the buy out
* Steven Frischling thoughts on his blog Flying with Fish
* PDF file comparing the two airlines

Sun Country Boeing 737-800 (N807SY) taken at SEA.

Sun Country Boeing 737-800 (N807SY) taken at SEA.

The rumors surrounding Sun Country’s buy-out have been circulating for quite sometime. I have heard that Delta, AirTran or Southwest might be good candidates for a take over. Out of those three, Southwest seems the most likely.

I spoke with representatives from all three rumored buyers and they each had their own unique way of telling me, “no comment.” That was totally expected, since either they honestly have no interest or this is a hot topic and one of them is not ready to let the cat out of the bag. I have spent the last few days trying to get a hold of someone at Sun Country, but with no success. Either this is a topic they want to avoid or they aren’t so keen talking to bloggers.

Sun Country is based at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which Southwest has recently started to fly into. This being a new market,  presumably Southwest would want to be able to grow rapidly. With the recent merger of Delta and Northwest (which was based at MSP), there could be Northwest loyalists who aren’t wanting to start flying Delta and looking for a new airline to LUV.

There is also fleet similarities between Sun Country and Southwest. Sun Country flies Boeing 737-700 and -800’s, while Southwest is just steps away from starting to fly the larger -800 among other versions of the 737. Southwest has been looking at flying internationally and taking over Sun Country would allow them to quickly start. Since Southwest is installing satellite based ROW 44 internet, they would have an advantage over other low cost carriers that fly internationally.

Sun Country recently came out of bankruptcy by creating a viable business plan. Although the airline publicly states they feel confident with their future, this would be a good time for another airline to take them over. Sun Country has announced they will be purchasing new aircraft, expanding routes and hiring 100 new employees. That confidence is good for Sun Country’s future and should make them a better value for possible buyers.

Southwest might also want Sun Country to make their books look better. Since Sun Country flies mostly to leisure travel  destinations from the very cold MSP, the first quarter is their best. However, the first quarter is Southwest’s weakest. Combining the two is like completing a financial puzzle.

So most things look like a great match. However, there are always two sides to a story and I spoke with Steven Frischling, who writes the blog Flying With Fish, and he sees some issue with this match up.  First, purchasing Sun Country wouldn’t  mean that Southwest would be getting their aircraft, “While many look at Sun Country’s fleet as compatible with Southwest Airlines, especially with Southwest announcing that they are exploring the 737-800, Sun Country does not own its fleet. All of its 737-700s & -800s appear to be leased.  So a purchase of Sun Country would not include aircraft,” he explained.

He also points out that one of the major reasons airlines will buy out another airline is to get slots at a particular airport. However, slots are not that difficult to get at MSP and Southwest wouldn’t need to buy an airline to increase flights. “Sometimes buying an airline for landing slots, fleet, routes or gates makes sense,” Frischling stated. “While Southwest Airlines is  changing how it does business, Sun Country offers Southwest Airlines nothing. The airline is not even a competitor.”

So, this might only be a rumor and nothing will come of it, but it is always fun to think about. The old Southwest probably wouldn’t have any interest in Sun Country, but things have been changing over at the Dallas based airline. Will the new Southwest look to take over Sun Country and expand internationally? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

MORE OPINIONS:
* Ben Mutzabaugh with USA Today
* Terry Maxton with Airline Biz Blog
* Reuters

Image: Drewski2112
AirTran Boeing 717 taking off while Midwest sits in the background

AirTran Boeing 717 taking off while Midwest sits in the background

Dan Webb over at Things in the Sky take a look at AirTran and Frontier deciding to end their mutual relationship. Yesterday Webb looked at AirTran announcing they would give you 32 A+ credits (that will get you two round trip tickets) if you donated 50,000 Midwest miles (also good for two round trip tickets) to charity.

This creates a problem. Last year Republic Airlines bought Midwest and Frontier. Recently they announced they would change the name to “Frontier Airlines.” AirTran and Frontier had an agreement to share customers (not a codeshare however) since 2006. AirTran is playing hardball (I think it is pretty genius) to get Midwest customers, yet were still trying to play nice with Frontier.

Webb guessed this probably couldn’t last for long and he was right. Today he posted that AirTran and Frontier have announced the ending to their partnership. Both airlines are competing in Milwaukee and AirTran is trying to steal customers from Midwest during Frontier’s brand transition just didn’t sit well with Frontier (surprise, surprise right?).

It seems AirTran is making a pretty smart move here. Loyal Midwest customers are now looking where they want to place their loyalties. If you remove your miles from the equation, now you have a new Frontier which will be taking a while to create brand consistency (ie: will your flight have DirecTV? Internet? On an Airbus or Regional Jet?), where AirTran has the consistency of having Wi-Fi and XFM radio on all flights.

Either way, the people of Milwaukee should reap the benefit of two airlines competing for their business. Game on!

Image: md11forver

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Yay! The graduation photo of the newbie class I sat in on!

Yay! The graduation photo of the newbie class I sat in on!

Have I bored you all with my flight attendant training blogs yet? 🙂 I hope not. I have enjoyed writing them and I hope you have enjoyed reading them. I know I learned quite a bit and have changed my perspective on what flight attendants do. They frek’n rock!

On this final post I just wanted to talk about some thoughts I had about the experience that didn’t fit into one of the other blogs.

I was originally set up to sit in on two classes for the first day, but the trainers did a great job of moving me around to a  bunch of different sessions. The cool part was most students didn’t know who I was until the second day, which meant they weren’t behaving just for me.

Unfortunatly I wasn't able to slide down their practice slide during my visit!

Unfortunately I wasn't able to slide down their practice slide during my visit!

The classes and personnel there were all very professional, but also fun. There were some very serious topics discussed, but everyone was able to have a good time and laugh. I personally think building a positive relationship with your co-workers and the company you work for is very vital in the training process.  By the end of the second day I really felt part of the AirTran flight attendant team.

During my life, I have had to sit through way too many boring PowerPoint presentations, but luckily the ones at the training were far from boring. I flew a red-eye from Seattle to Atlanta, got three hours of sleep and went right to the training facility, but I didn’t yawn once since it was interactive (I was yawning the second day, not from lack of interest, but lack of sleep catching up with me).

AirTran's training center in Atlanta, GA.

AirTran's training center in Atlanta, GA.

As I showed you, on earlier blogs, the training is very hands on. You aren’t just sitting in the classroom, but out in the mock setups where flight attendants learn how to open/close doors, use evacuation slides, practice safety procedures, try out their in-flight service and much more.

Something I never thought about were the different aircraft types airlines have. Unlike a pilot, a flight attendant is not assigned to a certain aircraft type. This means that flight attendants must know how every plane in the field works. Even though AirTran has an “All Boeing Fleet,” The Boeing 717 started its life as a McDonald Douglas MD-95 and is not very similar to the Boeing 737-700. It can’t be easy being a flight attendants on larger airlines like Delta or American that  have to know the systems of many different aircraft types.

That's me. Telling the passengers to sit down and shuddup because we are leaving!

That's me. Telling the passengers to sit down and shuddup because we are leaving!

The overall training for new flight attendants lasts about four weeks and is quite intense. About five of the new students that I met were flight attendants from other airlines and wanted to change employers since they heard good things about AirTran. One of the trainees, Alan (Hi Alan!), said this was the best training he had since PanAm. That is a huge compliment since PanAm was known for their amazing training.

Last Friday, April 16th,  all the newbie flight attendants I met graduated and will start completing test flights to hone  their skills before being released into the wild. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF YOU! Now they will ride on some flights to be tested and then end up on the bottom of the seniority list for which flights they have.

A nice AirTran Boeing 737-700 drawing in the trainer's break room.

A nice AirTran Boeing 737-700 drawing in the trainer's break room.

Seniority seems to be a pretty big deal in the airline business. The higher up you are, the more benefits you get. Flight attendants will be flying 20 days of the month and off for ten. Those at the bottom of the food chain (ie newbie hires) get last dibs on what days and flights they will fly on. It was interesting that to determine seniority for those in the class, BINGO balls were used.

I went into the training, not quite sure what I was going to get out of it.  I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what flight attendants do and the glamor of traveling the world and just serving drinks. I hope  this blog series has let you see how complex and important the flight attendant’s job really is. Almost every flight attendant I spoke with says it is the best job in the world and they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. To me, that is pretty cool.

A special thanks to AirTran and all the wonderful people that made this blog series possible!

A Day In The Life Of…A Training Flight Attendant
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | ALL | PHOTOS

I have updated my Flickr account with some additional photos taken with my iPhone and the flight attendant’s graduation picture.

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AirTran Boeing 737-700 that I flew from ATL to MKE

AirTran Boeing 737-700 that I flew from ATL to MKE

What better way to test out the things I learned than flying home via AirTran?

After my second day sitting in on classes, I left the AirTran training center and headed straight to Atlanta International Airport (ATL) for my AirTran flight to Milwaukee (MKE), then back home to Seattle (SEA).

Yesterday I looked at how some airlines provide very little space for passengers, but on this trip, I was lucky enough to test out AirTran’s business class (which has a seat pitch of 37″ — ah yeah!). In Business Class, the seats are bigger, you have more room, free drinks and premium snacks. Being up front also gave me the opportunity to watch what the flight attendants were doing and see if they were doing everything I just learned about earlier that week.

On the flight home, I had a totally different perspective than I had on my previous flights.  Like most frequent fliers, I feel like I know how everything works and I don’t need to pay attention.  This time, I couldn’t help but notice how the flight attendants did the safety announcements and prepped for the flight.

Once all the passengers boarded, I could see the flight attendants close the front door and arm the slides. When I heard the call, “cross check, all call,” this time I finally knew what it meant. Each flight attendant double checks to make sure both doors in the front and back have the slides armed and then call back, “cross check complete.” This is also done after reaching the gate to make sure the slides are dis-armed.

Once we hit that 10,000 foot mark, it was time to get on to the internet. AirTran and  GoGo In-flight were offering WiFi for 20% off, so how could I refuse? Cost me less than $10 and let me have access to the internet on both legs of my flight.

Every AirTran flight has WiFi, which is awesome!

Every AirTran flight has WiFi, which is awesome!

The flight from ATL and MKE went very fast. I caught up on some blogging (what better way to be inspired than blogging at altitude). The leg was uneventful and I enjoyed my free adult beverage and premium snacks. I ended up not having a talkative neighbor and that was ok with me.

When leaving ATL we were told that those of us continuing on to SEA would stay on the same aircraft. Fine by me, I could just surf the internet while waiting. Once we landed, I sat on the plane while others de-boarded around me. One of the flight attendants was standing in front of me thanking the passengers and I started talking to her about how many flights she had left. She told me this was her last flight for her and the plane. I thought she might have just been messing around with me. Turns out, she wasn’t.

With the extra room, my netbook easily bit on the tray and in Business Class you get free drinks!

With the extra room, my netbook easily bit on the tray and in Business Class you get free drinks!

While in flight AirTran changed plans and now people flying to Seattle would have to change planes. Between that decision being made and us landing at MKE, no one had informed the passengers. Not a big deal, this just meant I got to watch a totally different AirTran crew at work.

In my hurry to get to my next plane, I accidentally left my carry-on bag in the overhead bin.  While waiting in the jetway an AirTran pilot who was dead-heading (not flying but commuting from one place to another) asked if I needed help and went to get my bag (since he had the spiffy uniform on, people got out of his way). That was very nice of him, since it was not expected.

There were probably about ten of us who had to change planes who were on our way to Seattle. Most of the others were upset that we weren’t told and found this to be a huge inconvenience. One guy even mentioned that AirTran was definitely going to hear from him about this incident. Really? I mean this stuff happens. The airline business is very complex and planes have to be moved around all the time. We all got our same seats, and left right on time and got to stretch our legs.  Not a big deal to me.

I spent two days training with AirTran flight attendants, I flew two flights with two different flight crews from ATL to SEA…how did they do, you ask? Well it depends. Did they do every little thing they were originally trained to do? No, but that seems okay. How many of us do everything exactly the same way we are trained at our job? If I was just a normal passenger, not knowing all the specifics, I would be very impressed.

For example, in Business Class, trash is supposed to be taken away on a tray (vs the economy class uses bags) and bags were used on one of the flights. Do you think anyone came close to noticing that? No. Did passengers get less for their money because their trash was picked up in a bag? I surely hope not.

One of the things I enjoy most about flying on AirTran is that I know that on every plane, every flight will have internet and XFM radio. That is something that’s important to me. AirTran believes consistency is important on every flight; not just with the amenities available, but the type of service that passengers receive. On a flight that takes me 10 hours to get from one side of the country to another, I sure am willing to pay more knowing I will have Wi-Fi: something you can’t always get with others airlines.

A Day In The Life Of…A Training Flight Attendant
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | ALL | PHOTOS

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