Southwest Airlines to Begin Service to Fort Myers, Fla.

Southwest Airlines will begin service to Fort Myers on Oct. 2, according to the company's Web site.

Once Fort Myers opened a new terminal, the entry of Southwest Airlines into the Fort Myers market came as no surprise for Fred Piccolo, who pursued the airline for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

"We continue to pursue them," said Piccolo, president and chief executive of the Sarasota-Bradenton airport. "We're probably not in Southwest's plan in the near term. Maybe in the long term."

A more realistic expectation could be the return of ATA Airlines to Sarasota-Bradenton as early as winter, Piccolo said.

ATA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and pulled out of Sarasota-Bradenton in April.

In areas where it operates, ATA now has a code-share plan with Southwest, meaning passengers can transfer from ATA to Southwest flights and have their baggage checked through to their final destinations.

"They've been working with Southwest and we've talked to them both," Piccolo said. "Whatever reorganization they decide to do, they should consider us. We're hopeful they'll make some decision for this winter."

Low-cost carrier AirTran Airways in June announced plans to start daily nonstop service between Indianapolis and Sarasota-Bradenton in November, restoring a route that was lost when ATA went bankrupt.

If ATA returns to the airport, "you could legitimately say you can access Southwest through our airport," Piccolo said.