Southwest says plans radical changes for AirTran

ATLANTA Mon Aug 22, 2011 4:48pm EDT

An AirTran airlines jet (C) taxis past two Southwest jets sitting at their gates at Midway International airport in Chicago September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Frank Polich

An AirTran airlines jet (C) taxis past two Southwest jets sitting at their gates at Midway International airport in Chicago September 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Frank Polich

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) plans radical changes for AirTran, the company it acquired in May, chief executive Gary Kelly said on Monday.

The Dallas-based airline, the world's largest in the low-cost sector, said it will also begin flights to and from Atlanta on February 12, 2012, with 15 daily departures and five nonstop flights including one between Atlanta and Dallas' Love Field.

"I think we are going to make some radical changes to the AirTran flight schedule. We can improve the schedule. I think we can improve the fares," Kelly told reporters after speaking at a meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

"I think we can improve the profitability and so absolutely you're going to see a different offering," he said.

Southwest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. The company this month announced a weaker-than-expected quarterly profit.

Its purchase of AirTran Holdings for about $1 billion enables Southwest to expand in key U.S. East Coast markets such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, home to the world's busiest airport.

"There's a lot of uncertainty just in the environment right now with the economy, the outlook for business travel, fuel prices. All of those will have some bearing on what we do in the near term," he said.

"I am still very bullish about Southwest growth prospects and we have a lot under construction to create growth opportunities of the future," he said.

Business in August looked "very strong" and there was also "somewhat better" year-on-year growth but beyond that it was unclear whether the economy could sustain its level of activity, he said.

(Editing by Gary Hill)