What will happen to AirTran distribution on online travel agency websites once its merger and integration with Southwest Airlines gets under way in earnest?
That question comes to the fore following yesterday's announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division closed the books on its Hart-Scott-Rodino Act review, clearing a path to merger.
Southwest says it expects the merger transaction to close on May 2, 2011, and one of the next steps will be to secure a Federal Aviation Administration single operating certificate, which could happen in the first quarter of 2012.
It will likely take several years after that to merge the two airlines' fleets and crews, and to figure out how to blend disparate reservations systems.
Meanwhile, on the distribution front, AirTran and Southwest have diametrically opposed views on distribution through online travel agencies.
You can find AirTran flights and schedules on major OTAs such as Expedia.com.
And, Southwest shuns distribution through OTAs and once threatened legal action against Orbitz in the early days of the site when it merely posted the airline's schedules.
Once the AirTran brand fades away, OTA distribution likely will disappear, as well.
Unless Southwest has a major about-face.
Meanwhile, Southwest will have to sort out reservation system choices for the merged airlines.
Southwest currently is considering transitioning to systems from Sabre or Amadeus to better-accommodate merchandising and international flights, while AirTran's reservations system vendor is Navitaire.
Henry Harteveldt, Forrester Research's principal analyst for travel, says Sabre, headquartered in the Dallas area and with long ties to Southwest, may have some logistical advantages over Amadeus in the competition.