Still, AirTran's close attention to seasonal service, which adds flights during peak travel months, shows what may increasingly be in store throughout the domestic industry.
"Airlines are studying markets very carefully before jumping in and increasing service," said Louis Miller, director of Tampa International Airport.
Nonetheless, AirTran has increased ridership at Tampa International by 20 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 compared with the previous year. AirTran flies to 10 destinations nonstop from Tampa, second to Southwest with 31 nonstop destinations and ahead of Delta Air Lines with eight.
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport passengers have become accustomed to AirTran's seasonal service to St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit and Boston, along with year-round service to Atlanta, Baltimore and Chicago.
"AirTran is very successful at seasonal service and for us, people get to know it," said Rick Piccolo, the airport's chief executive. "Even the winter residents, they don't just come and go once, they fly back north for the holidays or visits and their friends come here.
Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 259-7817.
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AirTran, aided by a federal grant, is credited with stopping a downward spiral of service and passenger traffic at the local airport.
Airlines added to the Dept. of Transportation list of major carriers must have $1 billion or more in annual revenue.
Leonard told investors that 50 seaters were increasingly unprofitable with mainline route structures and would definitely not work with a low-cost operator.
AirTran has more passengers than any discount carrier except Southwest Airlines and expects to grow its fleet of 108 jets by 25 percent a year through 2008.