AirTran Trying Out Chicago, May Fly to Los Angeles Again

Want cheap airfares to Los Angeles? Try flying AirTran Airways to Chicago.

Executives with AirTran, a low-fare carrier that operates at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, said Tuesday that they might resume service to Los Angeles and add flights to additional cities, if their new flight to Chicago Midway Airport does well.

"D/FW to Midway is the key to future development," said Kevin Healy, vice president of planning for the Orlando, Fla., airline, which flies to Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., from D/FW.

It will begin service to Midway on March 8. AirTran joins ATA Airlines in offering discount service to Chicago from D/FW.

ATA executives recently said they were adding a fourth daily flight between the two airports.

AirTran's Healy said the route should benefit from the two cities' business strengths.

"The stronger the Midway route does, the better we will do in general, and eventually we'll look at Los Angeles again," he said.

AirTran began two daily nonstop flights to Los Angeles International Airport in July 2004 but got an intense response from Fort Worth-based American Airlines. American matched AirTran's fares not only to LAX but also on nonstop flights to four other airports in the Los Angeles basin.

Ultimately AirTran's two daily flights were competing with 39 by American to the region.

AirTran canceled the Los Angeles service last year, citing the cost of fuel as well as the competition. Like most carriers, AirTran suffered under the high price of jet fuel last year. But it still turned a tiny profit for the year.

On Tuesday, the airline reported a $2.7 million profit for 2005, including a $400,000 loss for the fourth quarter.

The annual profit was down nearly 78 percent from $12 million in 2004, and the fourth-quarter loss was a steep drop from a $1.1 million profit a year earlier.

Still, it was the airline's seventh consecutive annual profit at a time when most airlines are losing money.

Despite its sluggish financial performance, AirTran will continue to expand this year.

But Stan Gadek, the airline's chief financial officer, said most of that growth will be east of the Mississippi.

"That's really where most of the growth opportunities are right now for us," Gadek said.

AirTran's stock (ticker: AAI) soared in trading Tuesday, climbing $1.50, or nearly 11 percent, to close at $15.45 per share.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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