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Southwest Airlines to fly at Branson Airport

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Last edited 3:59 p.m., Jan. 20, 2012

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) confirmed today it would begin converting AirTran Airways operations at Branson Airport and 21 other domestic and international airports to Southwest operations.

In a $1 billion common-stock deal in May, Southwest Airlines purchased Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran Holdings Inc. (NYSE: AAI), parent company of AirTran Airways.

The changeover would occur during a period of several months, with Southwest starting Branson flights Aug. 12, according to a news release.

Branson Airport also hosts flights via Frontier Airlines. Through the two airlines, the airport offers flights to more than 50 destinations, according to its Web site. AirTran flies to five cities out of Branson: Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando and Baltimore.

Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk said the Southwest Airlines move would allow the number of destinations to significantly increase, but he said those details have not yet been determined.

"For me, what I care most about is that customers of Southwest can come and access southwest Missouri," he said.

A Southwest Airlines media representative was unavailable for comment.

No other Missouri airports are on the list announced today. Of the 69 cities AirTran served when it was acquired by Southwest, 53 are slated to eventually be converted into full Southwest service. Further airport conversions will be announced as the plans evolve.

Also effective Aug. 12, AirTran will cease operations at airports in six cities: Allentown, Pa.; Lexington, Ky.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Sarasota, Fla.; Huntsville, Ala.; and White Plains, N.Y.

"We are excited about the cities we have chosen to keep in our combined network. At the same time, there are some markets that we simply cannot make work in the current fuel environment, so we've had to make the decision to discontinue service in those locations," said Bob Jordan, Southwest Airlines executive vice president and chief commercial officer and AirTran Airways president, in the release.

Employees at the closing locations will have opportunities to seek employment at other AirTran operations.
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