The Florida Keys resort town of Key West will become AirTran Airway’s newest destination. AirTran will announce today that it will begin service to the Key West on Dec. 17 with four weekly round-trip flights from Orlando. The carrier will fly Boeing 737 jets on the route, with one-stop same-plane service from Atlanta. Connections will be available from most of AirTran’s other cities via Orlando or Atlanta. The carrier said the service gives it the claim of being the only airline to provide full-size commercial jet access to the island.
“Key West is one of the destinations that is most requested by customers in our hometown of Orlando and across our network,” Kevin Healy, AirTran’s senior vice president for marketing and planning, says in a release. “We are thrilled to add the Conch Republic to the AirTran network.”
Despite the Key West Airport’s relatively short runway, AirTran will be able to fly its full-size 737s into the airport by keeping the weight of its flights in check. Healy tells Today in the Sky that the airline has run proving flights into the Key West airport to make sure the route is feasible. He says that “from a runway configuration perspective, it’s shorter than normal – but not so short that it’s a concern.” The airline also notes that Key West is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for 737 operations.
The Orlando Sentinel notes “AirTran won’t have much competition: Delta Connection stopped scheduled service from Orlando to Key West in August 2008, and no one has offered nonstop service (from Orlando) since. And while other commercial flights to Key West use smaller planes, AirTran will use its biggest — Boeing 737s — for its service from Orlando.”
The arrival of a low-cost carrier is also welcome news to officials in Key West. “The research that we’ve done indicates that our market is more expensive than most,” Peter Horton, Monroe County’s director of airports, tells the Sentinel. “And that’s why we welcome a low-cost carrier.” In an Aug. 22 story in the Florida Keys News, Horton says: “We haven’t had full-sized jets since 1989. We have never had a low-cost carrier.” AirTran did, however, offer fares to Key West in the late 1990s on codeshare partners through its short-lived Florida Connection effort.
The addition of Key West comes as Healy says AirTran is going through “an optimization of our route network.” As part of that, the airline is taking a look at existing routes, paring frequencies on some underperforming routes to free up aircraft to redeploy fly on more profitable routes or to new destinations, such as Key West.