I enjoy flying new airlines and flying different types of planes. Call me crazy, but I have saved every boarding pass for every flight I have ever taken (maybe a future post on some of my favorites, what do you think)? So when AirTran Airways announced new service in and out of Austin, I was excited (It's okay, you can call me a dork, but I prefer to be called an AvGeek).
Some friends and I decided to head south for a long winter weekend for some sun, fun, and relaxation. This was the perfect opportunity to try out this non-stop service to México (which isn't common from Austin) as well as try out the AirTran product (especially before Southwest, who acquired AirTran in 2010, phases out the airline).
AirTran Airways 84 (FL0084)
Austin, Texas (AUS) to Cancún, México (CUN)
Friday, January 25, 2013
Departure: 10:18 a.m.
Arrival: 12:30 p.m.
Flight Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Class of Service: Business Class
We took the return flight on Monday, January 28, 2013 (AirTran Airways 84). The experience was pretty much the same as the one described here, so I won't discuss the return flight.
Check-in, Take One
For whatever reason, AirTran does not allow you to check-in online for international flights. I don't understand why since many other airlines allow online check-in for international flights (even as far back as 2010).
Anyways, I was picking up a friend from the airport the day before so I thought I'd run into the airport and get my boarding pass. In Austin, AirTran flights are handled by Southwest crews. At the Southwest counter, I asked if I could check-in for my flight the next day. The employee replied that no, they could not check me in until four hours before the flight.
This was puzzling because my friend who was on the same itinerary was able to check-in for the EXACT same flight on the EXACT same reservation earlier in the day in Denver.
The agent rudely said that no, it was US Customs and Immigration rules and she would not be able to help me.
Check-in, Take Two
The next day, I arrived at the airport at about two hours before departure. A friendly Southwest agent was happy to check me in, but she warned that today was her first day working the AirTran reservation software, so it may take a little longer.
Indeed, we hit a snag. We had converted Southwest Rapid Rewards points to AirTran A+ Reward Credits, which could then be used to upgrade our economy fare into confirmed business class. (This is a great deal and I will do this EVERY time I fly AirTran!)
Because we had previously paid for advance seat assignments, the agent could not check me in until the revenue associated with the ticket was moved out of the reservation. Whatever. Unfortunately this gave our friendly Southwest Agent a bit of a problem. She consulted her co-workers, who were also stumped.
After about 5 minutes, I called AirTran's 800-number to see if they could help. A friendly agent there understood exactly what the issue was and quickly transferred the funds from the reservation to my AirTran account.
When that happened, the Southwest agent says, "BINGO," and my boarding pass printed. She wished me a fantastic vacation and sent me to security.
At the Gate
AirTran only operates at the Austin airport a couple days a week. The plane comes from Houston/Hobby airport, then from Austin, flies to Cancún. Once in Cancún, the plane turns around and flies back to Austin and then on to Houston/Hobby. It's quite convenient for us Austinites.
The Southwest crew manages the AirTran flights in Austin. In general, I've found Southwest employees to be really friendly. It's rare that you run into a Southwest employee that doesn't seem to like and enjoy their job and employer.
As a result, the gate experience was what you would expect with Southwest EXCEPT for the Southwest Cattle Call. AirTran, like many other airlines, assign you a group number and they call the different groups to board. Southwest has, in my opinion, the worst boarding process where you are assigned a number at check-in, and you have to line up along a line of poles in numerical order to board the plane.
Prior to calling for boarding, the gate agents made an announcement that because this was an international flight, you had to go up to the desk and show your passport. They then stamped your boarding pass to indicate your documents were okay. I find this very odd because when you check-in at the ticket counter, they swipe your passport and enter your information. Anyways, my documents passed the once-over:
About 45 minutes before departure, boarding was called, starting with business class.
One thing that sets AirTran apart from Southwest is that they do offer a premium cabin - business class. Business class on AirTran includes:
- Priority Boarding
- More legroom
- Wider seats
- Complimentary cocktails
The business class section includes three rows with two seats per row on each side of the aisle:
In my opinion the seats were comfortable and a bit more spacious than what you would have had in coach. The seats do not have power ports at the seats to charge your electronics, but the plane did have wifi (which worked until we left the United States airspace).
The flight attendants were friendly and were very attentive. Along with complimentary cocktails (which is perfect for a flight to Cancún) the crew also offered complimentary snacks include cookies and crackers:
The Bottom Line
I was impressed with AirTran. I am glad I was able to experience this unique "low-fare" product before it disappears (and to have another unique boarding pass to add to my collection). I thought the fare paid was reasonable and the ability to cash in Southwest Rapid Reward points to pay for business class upgrades was a nice perk.
What I don't understand is why Southwest would want to get rid of the business class cabin. Southwest has grown tremendously in the past several years and they are now considered to be one of the major carriers in the US (along with American, Delta, United, and US Airways). They want to attract business travelers (who pay higher fares) and retaining the business class section with assigned seats seems to be a great way to do that.
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