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Celebrating AirTran Airways

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On December 28, 2014, we said farewell to AirTran Airways.  A special celebration was held  to commemorate the completion of the Southwest Airlines and AirTran integration, which has now brought two great Companies together as one.  More than 700 AirTran and Southwest Family Members were on hand in Atlanta to celebrate—as AirTran’s Flight 1 departed from Atlanta to Tampa Bay, marking the last AirTran Airways revenue flight.  To celebrate the airline, we had an internal blog series--12 Days of AirTran--that took look back at some of the People and their stories that contributed to AirTran's success.  Here is a compilation of  those blog posts.  Enjoy! Day1: A Look Back at AirTran's Origins by Richard West To start things off, our first post takes a look back at the early history of the two separate startup airlines which joined in 1997 to form AirTran Airways. AirTran_history3ValuJet Airlines took to the skies for the first time on October 26, 1993 when Flight 1 departed Atlanta for Tampa from gate C26. The Department of Transportation had only given authority to start selling seats about ten days earlier, which created an interesting dilemma – how to deliver tickets in time to Customers.  The answer was to not send tickets at all, but to use a new system which we are all accustomed to today, the electronic ticket. With only two aircraft in their fleet, (DC-9s previously flown by Delta) service was limited to Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Atlanta.  Operations in Atlanta were out of the then empty concourse C, left vacant by Eastern Airlines.  For several years the Eastern name appeared on jetways, ticket counters, and ground service equipment.  Additional destinations soon came throughout the southeast and beyond. AirTran_history1The original AirTran Airways was also product of the same era.  Based out of Orlando, the AirTran Corporation served as a holding company for Mesaba Airlines.  Startup carrier Conquest Sun was acquired by the new Company to operate its fleet of 737-200 aircraft under the AirTran name.  The first flight took place on October 6, 1994. Shortly after, the Airways Corporation was created independent of Mesaba and served as the holding company for the new airline. AirTran_history2ValuJet and AirTran announced plans to join as one on July 10, 1997.  Although ValuJet would be acquiring AirTran, the combined Company would retain the AirTran likeness.  Starting on September 24th of the same year, ValuJet began operating as AirTran Airlines.  The completion of the merger between the two companies occurred on June 1, 1998, when the combined operation was renamed AirTran Airways.   Day 2: A View from Communications & Outreach Name: Quinnie Jenkins-Rice Workgroup: Community Affairs & Grassroots Function: Communication & Outreach
AirTran Airways employees help out with Habitat for Humanity Monday Sept. 14, 2009, Milwaukee.  (Darren Hauck)
AirTran Airways employees help out with Habitat for Humanity Monday Sept. 14, 2009, Milwaukee. (Darren Hauck)
How many years were you with AirTran? I was with AirTran four years before joining the Southwest Airlines Family. Describe your best day on the job. AirTran_CO2I had many great days on the job! My absolute favorite days were our company volunteer days. It was always such a great feeling to see more than 100 AirTran Employees come together on their days off to walk for premature babies, build houses for the homeless and clean up schools in our communities. Describe your most challenging day on the job. One of my most challenging times during my tenure at AirTran was post acquisition when members of our marketing team either started moving to Dallas or onto their next chapters at other companies. We were definitely like a little family so having to say goodbye was tough! What are you looking forward to at Southwest Airlines? I’ve been on the Southwest Team for three years and it’s been incredible! I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside such smart, creative and caring people everyday. Southwest has grown so much in the few short years that I’ve been here and I’m most looking forward to what the future holds for our airline. I know we have incredible times ahead and I’m happy to be along for the ride!
  Day 3: A View from Customer Support & Services Name: Eric Aiken Work Group: Customer Support & Services Function: Customer Representative
AirTran_CSSHow many years were you with AirTran? I was with AirTran for eight years before joining the Southwest family in September 2013. Describe your best day on the job with AirTran. Every day on the job is a great day working with wonderful coworkers, and also being able to work for a great company like Southwest!  With that being said, my best day on the job was working closely with Southwest customer relations in assisting our passengers. I enjoyed my time with AirTran customer relations, but I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to build new relationships with my new family at Southwest. Those were great times for me being able to cultivate new relationships, as well as making a difference for the Company. Describe your most challenging day on the job with AirTran. I can honestly say I have not faced a challenging day while on the job. I try my best to look at any challenge as an opportunity for growth and development. One day that comes to mind when I was faced with an extremely difficult situation was the final day of AirTran customer relations. It was difficult because not only was our family in customer relations separating, but my new family that I enjoyed working with would no longer work together in the same capacity. What are you looking forward to at Southwest Airlines? What I am looking forward to most with Southwest is becoming a part of the culture and continuing to grow and develop within the Company. Lastly, I am looking forward to more great times ahead with my new family at Southwest, all while exhibiting a Servant’s Heart and a Warrior Spirit for the benefit of our Passengers and Company!
  Day 4: A View from Flight Attendant  Name: Tana Thomas, nicknamed “AirTana” Work Group: Cabin Services Function: Flight Attendant
AirTran_FA4How many years were you with AirTran? I joined AirTran in September of 1998. I had previously worked at Eastern Airlines for 18 years and when they shut down in 1991 I thought my airline career was over. Eight years later on a whim I attended an AirTran open house. After my interview, the recruiter, who was also a former Eastern Flight Attendant, offered me a second chance to get back into the skies and do what I loved the most. AirTran_FA3Describe your best day on the job with AirTran. On September 23, 1999, after having won a "Name the Plane" Employee contest, I got to attend the delivery ceremony for the first B717 at the Boeing plant in Long Beach, California. I had gone to high school in Long Beach, and as they rolled the airplane out of the hanger it was my Millikan High School Band marching in front of it. We then boarded "Esprit de Corps" for its very FIRST FLIGHT home to Atlanta. Describe your most challenging day on the job with AirTran. Every day at work following 9/11 was a challenge; there was so much fear in the air. When I would be getting ready to leave for a flight, my husband would say, “Are you sure it's safe?” Of course, I could not honestly say "Yes" at that point, but it was my job and I was not going to let anything stop me from performing my duties. Summoning my inner courage got me through the worst of it. AirTran_FA6What are you most excited about as we move towards completing the journey to One Luv: One Family on December 28? First off, having the honor of being one of the crew members on AirTran's final flight. Since I was also on the first flight, I will get to experience my career come full circle.  In some respects it will be a bittersweet moment, but as the old saying goes, when one (jet) door closes, another one opens, and I am so happy Southwest will be waiting in the wings to take me back into the skies once again.
  Day 5: A View from Ground Operations  Name: Linda Graham Work Group: Ground Operations Function: ATL Customer Service Agent
AirTran_GOHow many years were you with AirTran? I worked for Eastern Air Lines for 10 years until they ceased operations in 1991. I was watching the local news one night when I saw a story about a new airline starting service in Atlanta, and I recognized one of the Employees, whom I had worked with at Eastern. I was very eager to get back in the airline industry, so I gave her a call to find out more information. I started working for ValuJet on December 6, 1993, as a Customer Service Agent in Atlanta. What has been your favorite part about working in the airline industry? My favorite part is all the wonderful People I have met along the way! What was one of your most challenging days? One of the most challenging times was September 11. Describe your thoughts and feelings as we move toward completing the journey to One LUV: One Family on December 28. I am very proud of AirTran and all its accomplishments. It is like watching a child grow up—AirTran was “our baby." From a Critter to a Red Belly, it has been quite a journey!
  Day 6: A View from the People Department Name: Amy Morris Work Group: People Function: Senior Manager People
AirTran_PeopleHow many years were you with AirTran? I started with ValuJet on September 27, 1993, one month prior to the start of service. I was hired as an Aircraft Maintenance Records Supervisor. Through my career at ValuJet / AirTran, I had various positions in Records, Reliability, General Counsel, and, in 1999, moved to their HR department. I remained in HR until January 2012, when I became a Southwest Employee! Describe your best day on the job. It’s tough for me to pick just one best day on the job; I’ve had a lot of great times over the years! I can’t believe that I have been in the airline industry for 24 years. When I first started, the woman that was training me told me that I would either love working for an airline or hate it, and if I loved it, it would get in my blood and I would never want to leave the industry. I have to say that I agree with that statement. Describe your most challenging day on the job. I don’t know that I can pick out one specific incident, but I would have to say that those times where AirTran had decided to stop service into a particular city were the most challenging. I was part of the Team that would travel to the station and share the news to Employees, and that never was easy to have the discussion with them. What are you looking forward to at Southwest Airlines? I’m looking forward to continuing to work with and build friendships with such a great bunch of People, as well as seeing us continue to grow our airline and conquer new and exotic destinations. It is exciting to be part of the success story here at Southwest Airlines, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it!
  Day 7: A View from Maintenance  Name: Jim Davis Work Group: Tech Ops-Maintenance.   Jim signed the Airworthiness Release for the first ValuJet flight, and will sign the Airworthiness Release on AirTran final 717 flight on December 28, 2014.
AirTran_MXHow many years were you with AirTran? I was with Valujet at the startup of the airline. In August 2000, I returned to Airtran after being gone for a few months. I thought the grass was greener somewhere else, and soon discovered it didn’t even exist. My first day back at AirTran was definitely one of my best days here. Describe your best day on the job. As a general rule, all days are good, some are just better than others – I Iike what I do! A huge part of that is the people I work with. We have a good time and it’s amazing what we accomplish. Describe your most challenging day on the job. Every day has a challenge! I’ll never forget working the de-ice pad for a couple of shifts with Robert McKeown a few years ago. We were not dressed for it and we were miserable! Icy water running down your neck and into your shoes is not covered in A&P classes. What are you most excited about as we move toward completing the journey to One LUV: One Family on December 28? It’s easy to be excited about working for an airline that consistently makes a profit---and shares it with the employees. I remember someone at SWA saying ‘we would rather pay a few people a lot of money instead of paying a lot of people a little amount.’ To make that work, we have to ask a lot from the few. That’s a neat idea. I think to win in this marketplace, you have to be first, unique, or the best at what you do. We may not be the first airline out there, but we are ahead in the other two areas.
  Day 8: A View from Flight Ops Name: Floy Ponder Work Group: Flight Ops Work Function: Pilot - First Officer
AirTran_FO2How many years were you with AirTran? 19 years. Describe your best day on the job. The day I became the Director of Flying (Chief Pilot) for AirTran led to 10 great years. AirTran_FO1Describe your most challenging day on the job. The ice storm in 2010 that shut down Atlanta for two days was pretty challenging. What are you most excited about as we move toward completing the journey to One LUV: One Family on December  28? I am most excited about the potential expansion being built on the foundation of two great airlines.
  Day 9: A View from Dispatch Name: Brendan Lane Workgroup: Dispatch
AirTran_DispatchHow many years were you with AirTran? I was with AirTran 7 years, 7 months and 21 days. Describe your best day on the job. My best day on the job was any time I could get to a station while traveling and see the real time results of my work. Whether it was a child with Mickey Mouse ears on, a serviceman returning home after a long deployment, or a family reunion, I always enjoyed being a part of something special. After all, who doesn't remember their first airplane ride? Describe your most challenging day on the job. In 2008, Atlanta tower took a lightning strike and evacuated in combination with the loss of various runway lights. As ATL was not taking arrivals, I safely coordinated 14 diversions in a 45-minute period to stations as far out as MSY due to station saturation at airports closer to ATL. Around 1,800 passengers were safely on the ground after it was all through, which is precisely one of the many things we train for here in NOC. What are you most excited about as we move toward completing the journey to One LUV: One Family on December 28? I am looking forward to working with a great team of professionals in the NOC, and all the stations. While it will be bittersweet to make the last entry in the AirTran SOD log, it is a great feeling to cross over into the welcoming arms of a world class operation. With 30 years around airplanes in many different capacities, I welcome the opportunity to contribute all I can to the great reputation of Southwest Airlines.
  Day 11: A View from an Operations Agent  Name: Katina Barnes Work Group: Ground Operations Work Function: ATL Operations Agent
AirTran_OpsWhen were you hired at AirTran and in what position? I was hired on May 22, 1998 for AirTran Customer Service, but I was also cross trained for the Ramp. Then, I became the Tranland Coordinator, moved into developing our IROP department, became a certified instructor for the Atlanta Station, and I was also part of recruiting and initial training for the AirTran ATL and BWI Training Departments. Finally, I moved into the Command Center where I stayed until crossing over to SWA. What has been your favorite AirTran memory? There are so many AirTran memories that it’s hard to pick just one. I think the one that stands out the most is when I worked as a trainer, and another trainer, Charlotte Collett, and I were tasked with creating procedures for working an oversold flight. Leadership liked my presentation, and Charlotte and I created the training module and denied boarding information cards. The procedure went out to all stations. Until recently, all oversold/overbooked flights were executed following that procedure. It made me proud, surprised, and humbled that our work became part of the Company’s procedures. What was your best/favorite day on the job? My favorite day in my first year of working with AirTran was every day. I worked the night shift, so, as I would get dressed and prepared for work, I used to put music on and dance. We had a lot fun and formed a family. Describe your thoughts and feelings as we move toward completing the journey to One LUV: One Family on December 28. The day will be bittersweet for me. AirTran was what we as individuals made it. We created the airline into the success that it was. I’m sad to see it go (never dreamed I would be here as long as I have been!), but excited to see what’s to come. I look forward to making more memories!
  Day 12: A View from Southwest Leadership Name: Jack Smith Work Group: Operations Work Function: Senior Vice President
AirTran_LeaderHow many years were you with AirTran? I was with AirTran a total of ten great years. Describe your best day on the job. I didn’t just have  “one best day” – I had the opportunity to work every day with a terrific group of people. Describe your most challenging day on the job. Because so much of our flight activity was in ATL, summer thunderstorms could make for very challenging IROP days for both our employees and our Customers. What are you looking forward to at Southwest Airlines? Southwest is such a great Company, and I am looking forward to capitalizing on our many upcoming international opportunities.  
Bonus: Commemorating the AirTran Brand We thought you might like to hear from some our Leaders who were integral to the acquisition and integration. These Leaders share their thoughts on what the AirTran integration means from beginning to end.