Southwest: AirTran integration will be complete by December

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Southwest Airlines said Monday that it will finalize its integration with AirTran Airways on Dec. 28.

Southwest purchased AirTran in September 2010 in a high-profile combination of two of the nation's largest low-cost airlines.

The company has been operating AirTran as a separate subsidiary as it worked through the process of winning approval for integrating from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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The FAA awarded Southwest a single-occupancy certification in 2012, and the company has planned to complete the merger into one airline this year.

Southwest said Monday that the final flight operated under the AirTran brand name will take place on Dec. 28. The flight, from Atlanta to Tampa, will be a reprisal of the first AirTran flight in October 1993.

AirTran was started as a regional airline based out of Orlando. The company greatly expanded when it merged with the larger ValuJet Airlines in 1997, after that company suffered a high-profile accident in 1996.

The combined company took the AirTran name to avoid the stigma of the accident that was attached to ValuJet.

Southwest said it would be operating flights to 93 destinations under its own banner when the integration is complete, including its first-ever international routes that were previously operated by AirTran.

Southwest and AirTran combined during a period of rapid-fire consolidations that have drastically reshaped the U.S. airline industry in recent years. Since 2008, Delta and Northwest airlines, United and Continental, and U.S. Airways and American Airlines have all joined forces.

The trend toward consolidation has reduced the number of major U.S. airlines that are known within the aviation industry as "legacy carriers" to three airlines: Delta, United and American.

Southwest and JetBlue Airways will be the largest remaining low-cost carriers when the former's integration with AirTran is complete.