1. Business

Southwest, AirTran to reduce service at Tampa International

Published Jan. 31, 2012

TAMPA — Southwest Airlines plans to cut 12 weekday flights from Tampa International Airport starting Aug. 12, part of a nationwide realignment involving its merger with AirTran and a focus on long-haul flights.

The decision, which also involved cutting two AirTran flights, means TIA will have no nonstop flights to Jacksonville, unless another airline fills the gap. Southwest's one flight from Tampa to Milwaukee also will be cut, and service to several other cities will be reduced. The airline will add one daily flight to the six it already has to Fort Lauderdale.

The decision comes after Southwest announced last week that it will pull AirTran Airways out of Sarasota. AirTran also is pulling entirely out of Rochester, N.Y., which had one daily flight to Tampa. Flights between Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico, will be cut from two to one a day.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said Friday that the decision to cut flights at TIA was strictly economic.

"The vast majority of customers fly Southwest on a long-haul basis," Hawkins said. Jacksonville is considered a short-haul flight.

"As we've been able to offer more long-haul options in Tampa that has certainly shifted the market across the country," he added.

The airline also is dealing with a 33 percent increase in fuel costs, forcing it to focus on its most profitable routes.

Despite the cuts, Southwest will continue flying dozens of flights a day from Tampa and remains TIA's largest carrier. It's bad timing for TIA, which has made adding nonstop flights to Europe, Latin America and the West Coast a top priority.

"We understand Southwest Airlines has to respond to market conditions,'' airport CEO Joe Lopano said in a prepared statement. "We still believe there are great growth opportunities at this airport. Southwest continues to be the largest airline at TIA, and their presence in our region is critical to our economy.''

Other cities that will see reduced service from Tampa are Buffalo, N.Y.; Baltimore; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Hartford, Conn.; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Philadelphia and Manchester, N.H.