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Southwest to offer flights from BWI to Atlanta

Southwest Airlines announced today that it will make its first foray into the mega-sized Atlanta market in 2012, when it will begin offering 15 nonstop daily departures from Georgia to five cities, including Baltimore.

The BWI-ATL flights will begin in February with four daily nonstop flights with fares starting at $79 one-way.

AirTran, which is owned by Southwest, already offers flights between Baltimore and Atlanta and will continue to do so under its own brand, but there will be fewer of these.

AirTran will offer four flights to Atlanta, down from its current seven. Altogether, that's eight flights BWI-ATL. The other markets where Southwest will offer service to Atlanta include Chicago, Houston, Denver and Austin, the latter is the only route not currently served by AirTran.

It sounds small, but with such an important market, Southwest probably thinks it's best to go slow. The airline wouldn't want to spook its prey - Delta, the leading carrier in Atlanta - just yet. I'm not an airline analyst, but I have no doubt that Southwest means to eat somebody's lunch at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"We're bringing especially great value to those of you who travel last-minute," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in announcing the details to Atlanta's Chamber of Commerce. "Here in Atlanta, our fully refundable, walk-up fares will be, on average, more than 30 percent lower than anything currently in these markets. And we are bringing the flexibility Southwest Customers already enjoy in other cities because we don't charge a $150 fee simply to change your plans."

A little poke.

Also today, Southwest announced some crossover perks for top-tier frequent fliers of both its brands. Elite members of AirTran's A+ Rewards and A-List members of Southwest's All New Rapid Rewards programs will receive reciprocal benefits when flying on either carrier beginning today.

For example, Southwest's A-List and A-List Preferred members who book an AirTran flight will receive free upgrades to Business Class and can skip the baggage fees.

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