Southwest to buy AirTran: What impact will it have on RIC?

By Nicole Bell - bio | email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - There's a major merger in the airline industry. Southwest  announced plans to buy AirTran for $1.4 billion.

When the deal is finalized, Southwest would replace AirTran at Richmond International Airport.

It's news that has frequent fliers like Jennifer Jenkins smiling.

She purchased an AirTran  ticket Monday morning and found out about the merger moments later.

"That will be good you get direct flights to California," said Jenkins.

For RIC,  the merger could mean multiple changes.

"We think it opens up many opportunities.  It's early to speculate but we have a list of cities we'd loved to see served on a non-stop basis or at least with more frequency from RIC," said RIC spokesman Troy Bell.

Some customers, like Cathy Arines, worry the purchase will translate into a rise in ticket prices.

"We don't anticipate that especially given our history.  Southwest is a healthy large low-cost carrier.  I think in the long term we'll see very competitive fares," said Bell.

Boards for each airline have approved the transaction but federal approval is also needed.

"This means more airplanes, more routes, more customers and importantly more profit," said CEO of Southwest, Gary Kelly.

Once the deal is finalized, Southwest will operate from more than a hundred different airports and serve more than 100 million customers.

Customers can expect Southwest flights to take off at RIC next year.

RIC says news of the merger comes a great time -- just weeks after JetBlue announced it was eliminating its route from Richmond to New York's JFK Airport.

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