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AirTran Job Cuts Likely at Midway Airport After Southwest Merger

Job losses could be on the way for AirTran Airways’ employees working at Midway Airport.

Last week, Southwest Airlines announced it would acquire AirTran, and some industry analysts are saying job cuts may come after the acquisition is final.

“If I’m an AirTran employee that shares a parking lot with Southwest Airlines, I’m thinking ‘Oh, boy. What’s going to happen with me?'” said Jay Ratliff, a retired 20-year veteran of the airline industry who worked as a general manager for Northwest Airlines and is the current executive director of Exceed My Expectations.

Ratliff said since each airline already has a presence at Midway, consolidation of the two workforces is inevitable, and as a result, some AirTran jobs could be cut.

“They’re going to have too many people working the gates, too many people working the grounds, working in operations as well as the ticket counters, so there will be some jobs that will be affected,” Ratliff said.

Basili Alukos, an airline analyst for Morningstar Inc., a Chicago-based investment research company, agreed with Ratliff and said cutting redundant jobs is typical of mergers in any field.

“Imagine if you have a KFC and Burger King right next to each other, and all of a sudden those two companies merged,” Alukos said. “You don’t need the same number of staff to run both stores because you’re running the traffic through just one of the stores.”

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the AirTran chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said when it comes to the future of AirTran’s employees at Midway, his organization is “cautiously optimistic” about what could happen to its members. Morris said it is too early to speculate on job cuts, but he did say he and other pilots “were shocked” when the acquisition was announced.

Southwest has not officially announced any plans regarding either airline’s workers, but Paul Flanigan, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said the company is already working to combine the two companies while the acquisition goes through an approval process, which is expected to be completed in 2012.

“In the interim, we still remain two independent companies operating as such, so it’s really too early to speculate what that means for the market,” Flanigan said.

Currently, Southwest is Midway’s largest airline operating out of 29 of the airport’s 43 gates, while AirTran uses only two of the airport’s city-owned gates.

Ratliff said both discount airlines are doing well financially, which makes this acquisition an oddity.

“Normally, you’ve got someone who’s kind of hurting from a financial standpoint being represented. But here, we don’t have that being the case because both of those airlines were in the process of making money,” Ratliff said.

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