Southwest buys Airtran for $1.4B

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Two major airlines becoming one could mean better service for consumers.

Southwest Airlines is buying Airtran Airways for about $1.4 billion as it tries to make its way into smaller markets. The companies said Monday morning the new Southwest-Airtran deal would operate from more than 100 different airports and serve more than 100 million customers.

The Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport is keeping a close eye on the deal. Officials said they have had positive discussions with Southwest in the past as attempts to lure Airtran back have failed.

Southwest will now move into markets like Atlanta, and already serve nearby Charleston and Jacksonville.

"The statement this morning said they would be looking at smaller markets. We can only hope that moves Savannah up their list. We will cross our fingers and continue talking to them, as we do the other carriers," Lori Lynah, Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport spokesperson, told WTOC.

Airtran left the Savannah market a few years back after airport leaders say the airline made demands they could not and would not be able to provide. A recent attempt at negotitating with Airtran was turned down by the airline, despite new incentives the airport presented.

Officials now say they will be watching as Southwest regroups and integrates Airtran's fleet into their existing transportation model.

The deal is worth about $3.4 billion, which includes Airtran's debt, and is expected to close in the first half of next year, requiring both regulatory and shareholder approval.

Copyright 2010 WTOC. All rights reserved.