11-12-2003, 01:35 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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[ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 11/12/03 ] |
AirTran ready for San Francisco
Competitor JetBlue soon will bow out
By RUSSELL GRANTHAM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
AirTran Airways begins flying today between San Francisco and Atlanta, three weeks before another discount carrier exits the route.
Orlando-based AirTran arrives at its second West Coast city this year as JetBlue Airways is packing up after a short-lived expansion into the Atlanta market six months ago.
Last month, New York-based JetBlue said it is shutting down flights between Atlanta and the Los Angeles and Bay areas on Dec. 4, citing intense competition between Delta and AirTran on the two routes.
Airfares from Atlanta to the Bay area got cheaper after JetBlue began service in September. So far, AirTran's single daily flight between Atlanta and San Francisco seems to be having the same effect.
Orbitz.com, a Web travel site, listed short-notice nonstop flights to San Francisco today for $464 round-trip on both Delta Air Lines and AirTran, while AirTran listed the same trip on its Web site for $298.
Walk-up fares on Delta hovered around $1,900 before JetBlue entered the market.
Currently, round-trips purchased weeks in advance cost as little as $218 on AirTran, about $40 higher than JetBlue's cheapest recent fares.
Meanwhile, AirTran plans to focus on cities already in its network and add fewer destinations as it increases capacity as much as 25 percent next year, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Leonard said at a J.P. Morgan Securities Inc. conference in London.
The airline will add one to three cities next year, down from its usual three to five, he said.
AirTran is adding 10 Boeing Co. 717s and as many as 100 Boeing 737-700s as it more than doubles its fleet by 2008. The airline's third-quarter profit rose more than 15-fold to $19.6 million as sales increased 30 percent. Its discount fares have helped win customers from larger rivals such as Delta.
"We think it's time to consolidate, take a breather and improve our margins," Leonard said.
Instead of adding as many cities, AirTran will increase flight frequencies between cities and add service connecting destinations already in its system. "That's very safe growth but very profitable," Leonard said.
The airline will be able to fly "from any point in North America to any point in North America" once the 737s are added to its fleet, and flights to Canada and Mexico are "distinct possibilities," he said. The carrier already flies to one city in the Bahamas.
AirTran will finish this year with 73 717s, after retiring DC-9s from its fleet. The company will begin taking delivery of the 737s next year.
Bloomberg News contributed to this article.