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AirTran, Gone but Not Forgotten

SmarterTravel

Among the changes to the airline industry expected to unfold in 2015, the most attention has been drawn to the upcoming changes at Delta and United, both of which will convert their mileage-based loyalty programs to new schemes that award miles on the basis of ticket prices.

A lesser-noticed change will be the loss of one of America’s more interesting airlines. AirTran’s final flight, dubbed FL1 for the occasion, took off from Atlanta on December 28, bound for Tampa. The route, and the flight number, harkened back to AirTran’s predecessor, ValuJet, which inaugurated its service between those two airports, with that flight number, in 1993.

ValuJet bought AirTran after a crash in 1996, and adopted the smaller airline’s name, presumably to distance itself from any negative associations with the disaster.

Although Southwest’s purchase of AirTran, for $1.4 billion, was completed in 2011, the integration of the airline into Southwest’s operations has been a decidedly slow-motion affair. Now, finally, it’s over. According to Southwest’s news release: “The work of so many People culminates in this moment as we salute the enormous accomplishments of AirTran and Southwest. For our Customers and Employees, we now move forward with one airline, one Customer Experience, one flight schedule, one Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program, and one award-winning Brand.”

AirTran will be remembered for its cheap first-class seats and, more significantly, for the part it played in providing a competitive check on Delta’s ticket prices at Atlanta, the primary hub airport for both carriers.

AirTran’s story is also part of the larger move toward consolidation within the airline industry. With all the mergers completed during the past few years, more than 80 percent of the country’s commercial air traffic is now controlled by just four airlines.

Perhaps that’s the biggest reason to miss AirTran. And US Airways. And Continental. And Northwest. And so on.

Reader Reality Check

Which former airlines do you miss?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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