In the early 1990s, the travel industry entered a time of rapid change. Fuel prices soared in the midst of a global recession. Legacy airline giants Eastern and Pan Am reached their demise. As Delta attempted to capitalize on its market advantage throughout the southeast, a group of industry veterans saw an opportunity. AirTran Airways traces its roots to this period, and this week we recognize the 20th anniversary of our newest Family Member.
After receiving Federal Aviation Administration approval four days earlier, ValuJet Airlines (the predecessor of AirTran) took to the skies for the first time on October 26, 1993 between Atlanta and Tampa. A ceremony was held at gate C26 to commemorate the event and was attended by the founders, Employees, and Atlanta Mayor Maynard H. Jackson (whose name was later incorporated into the official name of the airport). The Department of Transportation had only given authority to start selling seats about ten days earlier, which created an interesting dilemma—how to deliver tickets in time to Customers. The answer was to not send tickets at all, but to use a new system, which we are all accustomed to today—the electronic ticket. ValuJet was the first airline to offer only electronic tickets, so Customers arrived at the airport with just their confirmation number and identification to travel.
With only two aircraft in their fleet, (DC-9s previously flown by Delta) service was limited to Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. Operations in Atlanta were out of the then-empty concourse C, left vacant by Eastern Airlines. For several years, the Eastern name appeared on jetbridges, ticket counters, and ground service equipment. Additional destinations soon came throughout the southeast and beyond.
The original AirTran Airways was also a product of the era. Based out of Orlando, the AirTran Corporation served as a holding company for Mesaba Airlines. The holding company purchased a startup carrier, Conquest Sun, to operate its fleet of 737-200 aircraft under the AirTran name. The first flight took place on October 6, 1994, and the company was spun off several months later to operate independent of Mesaba. Airways Corporation was the new Orlando-based holding company created.
ValuJet and AirTran announced plans to combine on July 10, 1997. Although ValuJet would be acquiring AirTran, the combined company would retain the AirTran livery. Starting on September 24 of the same year, ValuJet began operating as AirTran Airlines. The completion of the merger between the two companies occurred on June 1, 1998, when the combined operation was rebranded as AirTran Airways.
Events such as company picnics, annual Excellence Awards, and everyday recognition of people were a big part of AirTran’s Culture.
Similar to Southwest, AirTran would not have succeeded if it were not for the tireless efforts of their dedicated employees. Many of them are still a part of the Company and will celebrate their 20th anniversaries this weekend.
Their Warrior Spirits, Servants' Hearts, and Fun-LUVing Attitudes laid a strong foundation for AirTran that our ONE LUV is built upon today.
Bob Fornaro and Gary Kelly