DALLAS — Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said he will “make every effort” to retain service in cities where AirTran Airways operates today but stopped short of guaranteeing airports like Bloomington’s won’t see changes if the carriers’ merger is approved this year.
AirTran was the No. 2 carrier at Central Illinois Regional Airport in 2010, with 38.5 percent of passenger traffic. Southwest, a discount carrier like AirTran, does not currently fly out of CIRA but offers service in places such as Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis.
Southwest announced plans last fall to acquire AirTran for $1.4 billion, a deal recently approved by AirTran’s shareholders. The U.S. Department of Justice could sign off on the acquisition as soon as this spring.
On Friday, Kelly said Southwest has made no decisions about what routes will be added or subtracted after the merger. Southwest, which built its initial brand at smaller, secondary airports, has not yet had full access to AirTran’s records, making the decision difficult, he said.
Any schedule changes would not come until 2012 or beyond, Kelly said during an appearance at the Society of Business Editors and Reporters Conference in Dallas. The airlines’ focus right now is on closing the acquisition, he said.
“We’ll make every effort to keep (service) in every city (AirTran) is currently serving,” Kelly said.
CIRA officials have said Southwest and AirTran have been largely unwilling to discuss with them the future of small and midsize markets like Bloomington’s, pending the outcome of the DOJ review.
Southwest is the largest low-fare carrier in the U.S.