AirTran Airways launches low-cost service from Lexington to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday. The first flight — at 3:20 p.m. Thursday to Fort Lauderdale — is sold out, to the delight of Blue Grass Airport officials.
A low-cost carrier, AirTran is expected to stimulate competition and "lower fares overall" out of Lexington, said Brian Ellestad, the airport's deputy director of air service.
One-way leisure class fares from Lexington to Orlando — advertised at $99 in October when AirTran announced its new service — are on sale for $59 one-way, plus taxes.
"Typically, if you look where we start new service, fares (of other airlines) immediately make a drop. That's what we're known for doing," said Cynthia Tinsley-Douglas, AirTran director of corporation communications. "That's really a win-win for our airline and for the passengers."
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AirTran studied the Lexington market for three years before opening service. Reservations are "very strong," Tinsley-Douglas said. "Probably better than what we anticipated."
The airline offers less than daily service, meaning it will fly non-stop from Lexington to Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with return flights from Fort Lauderdale to Lexington on the same days.
Flights from Lexington to Orlando are scheduled Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, with return flights on those days.
AirTran flies an-all Boeing fleet of 717s and 737s. Service out of Lexington will be on 717s with a capacity of 117 passengers. "So it is not like a regional jet that holds maybe 50 or 75 people," Tinsley-Douglas said. All aircraft offer Wi-Fi service and more than 100 channels of XM Satellite Radio.
If demand remains strong to Florida, Ellestad hopes AirTran will expand service to Atlanta, AirTran's major hub.
Another hub is Orlando, headquarters of AirTran, particularly for passengers headed to the Caribbean destinations or San Juan, Puerto Rico. "That will connect Lexington to a pretty large hub in our network by being able to get to Orlando," Tinsley-Douglas said.