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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68 Comments on "Southwest Continues Cutting Atlanta, Delta Must Be Thrilled"

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David Johnson
Guest

Airtran seems to be going from a standalone Atlanta-centric operator to being instead merged into the Southwest system – just as one would expect from any corporate acquisition. Furthermore, smaller 717s are being replaced with larger 737s.
Yes, some of the thinner destinations are being cut, but capacity is being added both in terms of frequency and also number of seats per flight on other routes.

If you compare instead number of seats in/out of ATL available for sale or maybe available-seat-kilometres on these 2 dates, then how big do the cuts seem ?

Tim
Guest

For a sample week in July (2012 vs 2013):
Departures per week down 12.1% (as Cranky noted)
Seats per week down 10.9%

J
Guest

SW announced service from ICT to MDW, DAL and LAS starting in June. 5 flights daily.

David SF eastbay
Member

So they are cutting ATL to DFW/CLT/IAD mega hubs cities for DL/AA/US/UA so that’s not to surprising, and we already know about WN and DFW. If you look at the other cities they don’t seem like major markets where one might be shocked at the loss of service.

What’s wrong with getting rid of minor markets that must not be performing well and not going head to head in a couple of others with major players.

Beef up your strengths seems a wise move.

Jim
Guest

ATL was AirTran’s hub. Southwest is a point-to-point airline, they don’t really have hubs per se. So they have reduced their presence in ATL to those markets that have significant point-to-point traffic.

I don’t know if this is necessarily good for Delta. There is now no competition on minor routes, but more competition on the busy ones.

Sanjeev M
Guest
The minor routes at ATL are very important to feed DL’s massive international operation. I’m not worried about most of these cities, because while they may not be served from ATL, for the most part they’re covered in the combined WN system. ROC/PWM/ORF are better served through BWI. ICT as mentioned before is getting new service. I’m surprised that HPN is being cut, although is this due to the exit of 717’s? IAD no one cares about from a domestic standpoint outside of United. BKG has other service to HOU and MDW. Overall its consistent with WN’s plan to make… Read more »
Trent880
Guest

I keep hearing WN wants to focus on the “local” ATL passenger, rather than the FL hub. How exactly are they going to focus on one of the most overserved local passengers in the US industry, other than on price?

Tom
Guest

AirTran moved a lot of people from ATL to Orlando (DisneyWorld) and Fort Lauderdale (CruiseShips) now Southwest gets them. Orlando is huge market for Southwest (their planes are always filled) I just think Southwest wants to be the airline of Florida.

AlexM
Guest

The problem with Southwest switching ATL from a hub to a local focus is that without first class cabins, assigned seating, airport lounges, etc., they don’t really have much to offer Atlanta business travelers, which is where the money is made. They’ll be stuck competing for the deep discounting leisure travelers. Given Southwest’s cost issues, it would surprise me if this is a plan for success in Atlanta.

Brandon
Guest

They’re going after a different business market in addition to leisure. Not every business traveler has expense accounts, corporate contracts with airlines, etc.

Nick Barnard
Member
This does bring up the question, strategically does/did this merger make sense? Given how mediocrely WN has executed the merger, I’m leaning heavily toward no.. But I could be wrong. What exactly has WN gained out of all of this? Some 737s? Lots of employees? If I were to make a bet on this, I’d say the story here was WN pigheadedness thinking that their way was the right one and FL’s practices be damned. Perhaps WN could’ve made a first class cabin work on some flights? Why can DL make the 717 work but WN can’t? This more and… Read more »
Ted
Guest

The 717 question is an easy one. Look at the crew rates that DL will pay on the 717 vs. what WN would be paying on the 717.

K.V.
Guest

WN not only eliminated a competitor, it took a profitable airline and reduced it to ashes, treating AirTran’s employees like second class citizens–taking away seniority, and not treating them like “family” (on a personal level) which is supposedly WN’s claim to fame.

Steve
Guest

You give some and you get some. Would you rather have kept your seniority and at the same time kept your AirTran pay rates. That would have been fair.

ChuckMO
Guest
WN has been overflying ATL for years so much of this comes as no surprise. Using Florida as an example, WN has so many nonstop/direct flights to their current cities there is no need to funnel pax through ATL as FL did. The alternatives are already in place. If you look back, the FL integration, while much MUCH slower is reminiscent of Morris Air. Some smaller stations were cut, others were tied to existing WN stations and the SLC “hub” was pared down a bit. Now with the WN DEN build up, the operations at SLC have been pared down… Read more »
Tom
Guest
Here?s my guess? Southwest wanted Frontier and didn?t get it. So they buy AirTran. This eliminates another low-cost competitor, gets them access to Atlanta, and the addition of landing slots in the NYC and Wash DC. Plus doesn?t AirTran have a lot of flights out of Atlanta to say Orlando? So now Southwest does. And if Southwest owns AirTran? AirTran money is now Southwest money. I?m sure Southwest will turn Atlanta into another one of their ?Hubs.? Also still guessing here? But I think Southwest is worried about Spirit nipping at their heals. Spirit is slowing moving into Southwest markets.… Read more »
departing1983
Guest

Just one quick note… The compromise that finally resulted in the repeal of the Wright Amendment, I believe, still prohibits Southwest from flying internationally out of Dallas Love Field even once most other restrictions are lifted in 2014.

E
Member

It’s an interesting analysis, but I know y’all realize that seat counts and frequencies are just part of the equation…

It’s quite possible WN is managing to offset the loss of what are a bunch of second and third tier locations. Perhaps even more than offsetting if they’re able to move more people east-west and in/out of the WN non-hubs than what the FL hub was able to accomplish…

Troy Bell
Guest

No change in RIC-ATL, 4x JUL13 v 4x JUL11, for dates in the table above.

Eric A.
Member
Excellent analysis Brett!! IMHO…I dont know how much DL is smiling because the ATL transition is pretty much a zero sum game. I am willing to bet that the city pairs being axed from ATL are sectors that were top heavy on connecting traffic. That fare mix of say 80% cx/20% o&d (using random assumption numbers) dosent work with WN’s cost structure. SDF/ORF/AUS offer strong O/D and have been held captive by DL for years. Naturally there will be connectivity over ATL based on the scope of the operation…but the connectivity will not be the backbone of the sectors. This… Read more »
DO
Member

Most seem to think that the SW objective was to fly local O&D from ATL. Im thinking that the other half of the trip is probably more the case in that SW is listening to its huge customer base who wanted to fly to ATL. Picking up some brain power experience in international helps, a few airplanes, etc. was frosting on the cake.

w martin
Guest

When is JetBlue coming to ATL?

Tom
Guest

Was buying an existing airline the only way Southwest could of gotten into ATL? Plus can’t they just gut AirTran and keep the gates they aquired?

DO
Member

Not at the scale that they are at once the shake out of the merger is complete. They might have gotten a few gates but then would have had to compete with both delta and airtran while waiting for someone to downsize. If you look at most SW hubs they roughly run 150-220 flights a day and that puts them right where they need to be today and more with the gates they aquire from airtran in ATL….about the same scale as denver but it took less than 5 years to do it.

Mike
Guest

Jet Blue already came to Atlanta. Delta ran them out and they dropped the flights and left.

njg123
Member
Don’t say SW isn’t a hub airline. Just consider BWI, MDW, HOU, DAL, and PHX. All are basically hubs. OK, maybe not on the order of DL in ATL or AA in DFW, but they have around 150 to over 200 flights each and handle the change of one SW airplane to another SW airplane. I thought SW would set up a similar “hub” in ATL. Nope, they sold the 717s to DL, which will use them instead of RJs in ATL and DTW, and they kept the 737-700s which they’ll just add to their other old and new 737s.… Read more »
ChuckMO
Guest

with what gates?

barry
Member

Atlanta is gate challenged. Even with the new international terminal, that did not add a lot of capacity in the great scheme of things. There is the possibility that some of Southwest/Airtran’s gates may become available. Airtran was using a lot of the “common use” gates on Concourse D and E. Those gates belong to the airport and can be used for other airlines if Airtran does not really need the gates for their current level of traffic. But, I don’t think there is enough gate space to start a significant operation in Atlanta.

Steve
Guest

Quite a few of AirTrans gates don’t fit anything over a 717. They will all have to be realigned and reprinted causing some gates to be pulled from service due to inadequate space to fit an airplane.

DO
Member

The 717 is about as long as an 800. SO wingspan is the issue- to say after the re-striping they end up with 18 gates. Ive seen various SW operations operate anywhere from 8 to 13 turns a day per gate. So taking the 10 a day average your looking at 180 flights with an upside of 230 flights in a pinch…..its all about gates and how fast you can turn them.

Herman
Guest

I’m in the camp that believes WN didn’t need anything but the gates at ATL. Look at what they did with TZ…bought them, told everyone they’d continue operating the airline, then slowly took it apart & shut it down. Main objective there appeared to be real estate at MDW (gates).

njg123
Member
AirTran has/had 19 gates at ATL on Terminal C – South. They operated a fleet of B717s and B737-700s. They operated over 200 flights a day from these 19 gates. SW could easily use those gates to operate a HOU or PHX sized hub from those same 19 gates. Instead, they have decided to operate a minor operation out of ATL. I don’t believe ATL’s management will allow SW to operate all those gates without offering 200 or so daily flights out of ATL and neither will management give them to DL. ATL’s management has always had a policy of… Read more »
Steve
Guest

737’s don’t fit at the AirTran 717 designated gates. Southwest will lose gates when the safety zones are reprinted to fit 737-800’s.

DO
Member

thats not true- the surprisingly the 717 is as long as an 800

barry
Member
The Concourse C gates are not in question. Airtran/Southwest has a long term lease on those gates. The issue will be the Concourse D and Concourse E gates that Airtran/Southwest uses. Most of the gates on D and E are not under a standard lease. They are under a shared agreement. In that agreement if the airline is not fully utilizing it’s gates, the airport can take them back. As an added note, Airtran has never done 200+ flights a day out of the 19 gates on C concourse. When Airtran hit that level of traffic there were additional gates… Read more »
barry
Member

Ooops! I hit submit too soon. Airtran now has a dedicated international gate on Concourse F, the new international concourse.

George Hamlin
Guest
Since WN (apparently) is concentrating on local traffic to/from ATL, this has strong potential to hit DL where it hurts. Southwest walkup fares are typically lower than legacy carriers’ walkup fares, at least in part because Southwest has a lower cost structure than the legacies, and can price accordingly. Hub profitability depends on local traffic at yields higher than those for connecting traffic. If Southwest succeeds in attracting any reasonable component of local ATL traffic, it could impact the hub’s profitability on a significant scale. DL will match, but they don’t have the cost structure; this dagger is aimed at… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Last I checked DL’s and WN’s costs were similar. WN’s costs long ago caught up with legacy carrier’s costs, and AFAIK now is one of the highest… CF is that still the case?

JPH
Guest

Delta is years “behind the 8 ball” in business lost to SW as Delta, in almost all cases over the years, just abandoned cities that SW est. service in because Delta did NOT know how to compete with this model! They tried, but too late with their green aircraft, etc.! SW has never gone BANCRUPT!

Brandon
Guest

Not sure the specific reason but WN tried to grow SLC but weren’t too successful while DL seems to have stayed pretty strong.

Nick Barnard
Member

It amazes me how quickly the SW cheerleaders come out. DL has been running an excellent operation as of late and is doing the running other carriers out of markets, not the other way around.

JPH
Guest

Come on – post my comments…..JPH

DougOH
Guest
Gary Kelly has been saying all along since the announcement of the merger that ATL will be scaled back, so this route analysis is kinda just showing the results and not really enlightening. Why use ATL as a hub at all? Other than being a decent funnel to the Carribean and Mexico.. is Soutwest gonna make money connecting people to Florida? They’re better off just flying them nonstop. Look at the geography folks, there’s not a lot of cross country connections to use ATL for to the east and south. Thats the difference between ATL, compared to almost every other… Read more »
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