AirTran Airways has yet to make its first flight out of Baltimore, but the budget carrier said yesterday that it will be expanding its service here to include several Florida cities.
The Orlando, Fla.-based airline will add daily nonstop service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Orlando, Miami and Fort Myers beginning late this year and early next year.
About two weeks ago, AirTran announced it would be entering the Baltimore market with three flights per day to Boston and Atlanta starting Dec. 12. AirTran will begin service here about the same time as US Airways eliminates its low-fare MetroJet fleet based in Baltimore.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the only other low-fare carrier serving BWI.
"It's great news. It continues BWI's status as the low-fare capital of the Middle Atlantic states," said David S. Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association in Washington.
BWI spokesman John White said the news is good for the airport, too. "To lose MetroJet was definitely significant," White said. And it isn't reasonable to expect Southwest to increase the frequency of flights or number of cities to make up for the loss, he said.
There will be little overlap between Southwest and AirTran service, White said.
"We believe that BWI has all the right ingredients to make the service work," said AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson.
The pending loss of MetroJet opened up opportunities for the growing AirTran, which is adding one Boeing 717 per month to its current fleet of 58 717s and DC-9s, he said.
AirTran will launch a daily flight from Baltimore to Orlando beginning Dec. 19. A flight from Baltimore to Fort Myers will begin Feb. 5. AirTran will add a daily flight to Miami and a second daily flight to Orlando starting March 5.
The carrier is offering attractive introductory fares for tickets purchased by Oct. 30. A one-way flight to Orlando starts at $73.
Previously, the carrier said it expected to add a fourth daily trip from BWI to Atlanta in February and possibly two more flights to Boston.
Right now AirTran is focused on getting its station open in Baltimore, Hutcheson said. The airline expects to initially hire about three dozen employees, and have 50 or 60 workers by spring, he said.
AirTran, formerly ValuJet, and other low-cost carriers are trying to follow Southwest's successful model of serving budget-conscious leisure travelers. Like Southwest, too, AirTran focuses on vacation destinations in Florida and the Southeast, although it recently has begun to concentrate on the Northeast.
AirTran's primary base of operations is Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. It has 330 daily departures to 35 cities.
Industry analysts say AirTran is a well-managed company.
"Many other cities all around the U.S. are looking for these type of airlines to start services. Baltimore is very fortunate to have two of them," said Bill Oliver, vice president of Boyd Group/ARSC Inc., a Colorado aviation consulting and research firm. "It means frequent and affordable air fares. ... "