Unhappy with AirTran- Southwest Merger ? Any Alternatives ?

As Southwest Airlines prepares to fuse with AirTran Airways -- and do away with its business class and assigned seating options -- some AirTran passengers are seeking out other airlines, according to a travel agency network survey. They obviously do not like it!

In the survey by Travel Leaders, the firm’s travel agents, managers and owners in Georgia who responded said they have AirTran clients who are seeking alternatives that offer first class or business class.

Although it was a small sample, with just 15 responses, all of the respondents said a few, some, a majority or all of their AirTran clients are seeking alternatives. Some also said Delta Airlines that has Atlanta as it’s Hub is the prime beneficiary.

“We feel that AirTran’s customers will come to love Southwest just as they have enjoyed AirTran service,” Southwest spokeswoman Katie McDonald said. “I think customers will come to find that Southwest offers just as much, if not even more benefits than our competitors.”

One big selling point: two free checked bags. Delta, AirTran and other airlines charge extra for checked bags. McDonald said Southwest passengers also benefit from not paying change fees.

Leslie Garner, director of operations for Travel Leaders Johns Creek, said her corporate clients have a lot of questions about the Southwest-AirTran deal.

“Taking away business class seats from travelers that are on the road all the time, [who] are road warriors, hurts,” Garner said. “So they are concerned.

But she also said the company has corporate clients all over the nation who are happy with Southwest. “Because we’re in the Atlanta market,” where Southwest has never flown, “we don’t know yet,” she said.

Separately, the Travel Leaders survey showed in a larger national sample that Atlanta was the most preferred hub airport -- but also second only to Chicago O’Hare as the one they avoid.

“It’s funny,” Garner said of the dual result.  Atlanta International Airport is well-liked by those who appreciate its efficient layout and wide array of restaurants and shops. But “getting from point A to point B at the airport takes a little time,” she said.