Southwest to "de-hub" Atlanta from November

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Southwest Airlines will "de-hub" its subsidiary AirTran's base at Atlanta from the airlines' November schedule as it transitions the city to a point-to-point operation.

The airline hopes the switch will help it win more local traffic from the Atlanta area, say the carrier's executives on an earnings call today.

Southwest expects to publish its November schedule next month, and says the new schedule will give passengers more variety in departure times out of Atlanta.

The carrier closed on its acquisition of AirTran in May 2011 and has said it plans to optimise the two airlines' schedules at Atlanta after the two carriers connect their networks, which took place on 14 April.

With the "de-hubbing" of Atlanta, the number of daily flights offered by the carrier from the November schedule will be "slightly less" than the current average of 175, says Southwest chief commercial officer Bob Jordan, who attributes the slight decrease to seasonality.

However, passengers will have a better variety of departure times to choose from, says Jordan. Currently, most of the Atlanta flights are concentrated in the early morning or late evening to cater to connecting traffic.

With the transition of Atlanta to a point-to-point operation, the airline will offer more flights in the middle of the day, says Kelly. "This will bring more competition to the market... with the objective and expectation that we will generate more local travellers than what AirTran has been doing," he adds.

Southwest estimates that 60% of AirTran's traffic at Atlanta was connecting traffic when it acquired the carrier. This has since fallen to about 52%, says Jordan. "You will continue to see that shift to local traffic," he says.

Southwest says it is confident in achieving its target of net pre-tax synergies of $400 million from the AirTran merger this year, excluding acquisition and integration costs.

As of 31 March, the airline had incurred about $337 million in cumulative costs related to the acquisition and integration. Southwest does not expect these costs to reach above $550 million.