Southwest Continues Cutting Atlanta, Delta Must Be Thrilled

Remember when Southwest announced it was taking over AirTran and people immediately thought Delta was in trouble in Atlanta? Hah. Yeah, right. I’d say the opposite is true. Delta must absolutely love Southwest for how much it has cut back Atlanta so far.

Southwest didn’t complete its purchase of AirTran until May 2011, and the first joint schedule wasn’t released until travel for September of that year. For that reason, I decided to take the summer 2011 schedule in Atlanta, before the changes, and compare it to the recently-released summer 2013 schedule. I looked at a Wednesday in the middle of July and the results are quite clear. Southwest has put a serious dent in AirTran’s Atlanta schedule.

Southwest and AirTran combined in 2013 will operate 12 percent fewer departures than AirTran alone did in 2011. (Southwest didn’t start serving Atlanta until well after.) AirTran had 211 Wednesday departures back then, but the combined airline will have 185 next summer.

Probably more staggering is the number of cities that have lost service completely. In fact, the combined airline has cut the number of nonstop destinations from Atlanta by 20 percent. Southwest/AirTran will serve only 45 destinations next summer while AirTran served 56 back in 2011. And those 45 destinations include 4 new Southwest ones. That means Southwest has ditched 15 AirTran destinations. (The most recent, Wichita, was just announced recently.) Take a look at the carnage via this Great Circle Mapper map.

ATL Changes AirTran 2011 vs AirTran and Southwest 2013

The red lines go to the 15 cities that had nonstop service on AirTran in 2011 but will be losing it by next summer. The blue lines are the four airports that weren’t in the schedule in 2011 but will be next summer.

So has Southwest grown anywhere? Sure. It did add new service to Austin and Louisville. It also added 4 new flights to Baltimore along with 2 new flights to Vegas, Chicago/Midway, and Memphis. There was also 1 additional flight each to Akron/Canton, Ft Lauderdale, Houston/Hobby, Pittsburgh, Richmond, St Louis, and Tampa. In other words, most of the growth has been to Southwest strongholds. And that’s not a surprise. (I don’t count Norfolk as growth since it basically replaced 4 Newport News flights with 3 in Norfolk. And Aruba was an AirTran destination that just wasn’t served on Wednesdays back then.)

We also have to think about seat count growth. As those 717s are replaced by 737s, each flight will end up having more seats onboard. So there is growth in existing markets just by changing aircraft types. But there are a lot of markets left with nothing.

As you can imagine, Delta has to be enjoying this. It serves 13 of the 15 cities that AirTran/Southwest ditched, so it has to love what’s happening on those routes. (The other two are Atlantic City and Branson.) At the same time, Delta is going from competing with an airline that has First Class and seat assignments to one that doesn’t. It’s also facing a Southwest/AirTran that will have higher costs than what AirTran had on its own. That means fares have to be higher for Southwest to make money.

Yes, it’s mostly a good news story for Delta. Southwest is slowly turning Atlanta into a very different kind of city in its network compared to what it was in the AirTran network. Here’s the breakdown of daily departures by airport, for those who are curious. (The 2011 numbers came from masFlight, but I used Southwest/AirTran schedules for 2013 data.)

July 17, 2013   July 13, 2011   Pct Change
  AirTran Southwest Total Seats   AirTran Seats   Flights Seats
ACY   2 234   -100% -100%
AUA 1 1 145     N/A N/A
AUS 2 2 274     N/A N/A
BDA   1 145   -100% -100%
BKG   2 234   -100% -100%
BMI   2 234   -100% -100%
BOS 5 5 641   6 702   -17% -9%
BUF 3 3 351   3 351   0% 0%
BWI 6 5 11 1,483   6 730   83% 103%
CAK 5 5 613   4 468   25% 31%
CLT   2 234   -100% -100%
CMH 2 2 234   2 234   0% 0%
CUN 2 2 290   2 290   0% 0%
DAY 3 3 351   4 468   -25% -25%
DCA 6 6 730   6 786   0% -7%
DEN 2 2 4 576   4 580   0% -1%
DFW   7 903   -100% -100%
DTW 4 4 468   4 552   0% -15%
EYW   1 145   -100% -100%
FLL 8 8 992   7 903   14% 10%
FNT   4 524   -100% -100%
HOU 5 3 8 1,030   7 903   14% 14%
HPN   3 351   -100% -100%
IAD   4 468   -100% -100%
ICT   3 351   -100% -100%
IND 4 4 468   2 262   100% 79%
JAX 4 4 468   4 496   0% -6%
LAS 2 3 5 719   3 435   67% 65%
LAX 3 1 4 578   5 725   -20% -20%
LGA 6 6 786   9 1,109   -33% -29%
MBJ 1 1 145   1 145   0% 0%
MCI 4 4 468   4 468   0% 0%
MCO 9 9 1,053   10 1,282   -10% -18%
MDW 6 4 10 1,262   8 936   25% 35%
MEM 5 5 585   3 351   67% 67%
MKE 5 5 613   5 613   0% 0%
MSP 4 4 496   6 702   -33% -29%
MSY 4 4 496   4 468   0% 6%
NAS 1 1 145   1 145   0% 0%
ORF 3 3 417     N/A N/A
PBI 2 2 234   2 234   0% 0%
PHF   4 468   -100% -100%
PHL 5 5 613   5 585   0% 5%
PHX 2 2 286   2 290   0% -1%
PIT 4 4 496   3 351   33% 41%
PNS 3 3 351   3 351   0% 0%
PUJ 1 1 145   1 145   0% 0%
PWM   2 234   -100% -100%
RDU 3 3 351   3 351   0% 0%
RIC 4 4 468   3 351   33% 33%
ROC   2 234   -100% -100%
RSW 4 4 468   4 468   0% 0%
SAT 4 4 552   4 468   0% 18%
SDF 3 3 417     N/A N/A
SEA 1 1 143   3 435   -67% -67%
SFO 2 1 3 433   4 580   -25% -25%
SJU 2 2 290   3 435   -33% -33%
SRQ   2 234   -100% -100%
STL 4 4 468   3 351   33% 33%
TPA 8 8 964   7 903   14% 7%
Total Departures 156 30 186 23,556   211 26,395   -11.8% -10.8%
Destinations     45     56     -19.6%

[Edit 11/27 @ 238p PT to add changes in seats to the table]

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