Southwest and AirTran combined schedules due in Q1 2013

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Southwest Airlines and its subsidiary AirTran Airways are on track to publish full integrated flight schedules for domestic operations during the first quarter of 2013, which will allow passengers to book a single itinerary on both airlines through either carrier's website.

Southwest acquired AirTran in May 2011 and is in the process of integrating both carrier's operations. Among the tasks is the launch of a reservations system that will allow Southwest, which operates only domestically, to operate AirTran's international flights.

Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly says that AirTran's destinations will be bookable on Southwest's website in the first quarter of 2013, but international flights can be purchased only on AirTran's website until Southwest achieves the capability to sell those flights. Southwest has contracted Amadeus to launch a reservations system that will allow the airline to do this in 2014.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Dallas, Kelly says that the issue of baggage fees on AirTran will be addressed when Southwest publishes the integrated schedules. Southwest does not charge baggage fees but AirTran does for checked bags.

Southwest has said that it plans to keep the AirTran baggage fees until 2014, and Kelly reiterates that this has not changed. However, he declines to be more specific on what form that the bag fees will take when a passenger books a single itinerary including both Southwest and AirTran flights.

He acknowledges that the airline will lose "a lot" in baggage fees when it eventually eliminates them on AirTran, but hopes that revenue from the integrated itineraries and incremental traffic could offset this.

Southwest is in the process of converting AirTran's 52 Boeing 737-700s to Southwest's interiors and livery, and will complete the work on 11 aircraft this year. Another eight aircraft, which are equipped with avionics that allow for flights over water, are being operated on AirTran's Puerto Rico flights, says Kelly. Southwest will be ready to fly these aircraft once it wins agreement from its flight attendants to allow it to fly over water, he adds, pointing out that the Puerto Rico flights are "not technically international".

The remaining 33 737s operated by AirTran on international flights will transition to Southwest colours in 2014, after Southwest's reservations system is able to handle international flights, says Kelly. The airline aims to complete this transition by the end of 2014, but Kelly acknowledges that this could slip into 2015.

Southwest also acquired AirTran's 88 717s when it bought the carrier, but has since agreed to sublease all 88 aircraft to Delta Air Lines. The first 717 will leave the fleet in August 2013 with all of them transitioning by end-2015.