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AirTran Airways has ceased to exist in an industry that has reshaped itself into something that would not be easily recognized when the Dallas carrier took its first flight about two decades ago.
AirTran, which was acquired by Southwest in 2011, joins Northwest Airlines, which was bought by Delta, and Continental Airlines, which merged with United Airlines, in retirement. US Airways will disappear after it is folded into American Airlines — those two merged in December 2013 but still operate separately for now.
The mergers have left four carriers in control of more than 80 percent of the U.S. air-travel market.
AirTran’s final flight, from Atlanta to Tampa, Florida, was packed with airline employees and media late on Sunday. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and other executives led a farewell event at the Atlanta airport.
The trip, dubbed Flight 1, was a nod to the airline’s first flight in 1993, when it was known as ValuJet.
Southwest Airlines Co. shed some of AirTran’s smaller routes and absorbed the rest, including taking over AirTran’s flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.
AirTran’s white and teal jets are being repainted in Southwest’s blue, red and yellow, and the business-class seating is being converted to Southwest’s all-economy layout.
Southwest spokeswoman Melanie Jones said Monday that 14 AirTran Boeing 737 jets are going through that makeover or will soon. None will carry passengers until they are repainted. Southwest is in the middle of shipping AirTran’s smaller Boeing 717s to Delta Air Lines.
Low-cost carrier ValuJet suffered a 1996 crash in the Everglades that killed all 110 people on board. The next year, it bought AirTran and adopted the smaller rival’s name. Southwest, which had been looking for ways to grow, snapped up AirTran for about $1.4 billion.