Southwest Airlines and Virgin America will receive slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport as part of the settlement that American Airlines reached last month with the Justice Department.American was required to divest 34 takeoff and landing slots to earn government approval of its merger with US Airways. The merger is scheduled to close Monday.“American and the other carriers have agreed to transition the operation of the slots over time in order to minimize customer disruption,” said American spokesman Mike Trevino, adding that the Justice Department has approved the slot transfer.Southwest will receive 22 slots and Virgin America 12. Of the 22 given to Southwest, the Dallas-based carrier already uses 10, leasing them from American.“We will release more details on our network plans in the weeks ahead — after the process is finalized,” Virgin America spokesman Madhu Unnikrishnan said.Southwest said that it will begin its new service at LaGuardia in May and that details will be available this month. The airline operates 27 daily round-trip flights at LaGuardia to eight destinations. The new slots will allow Southwest to add six daily round trips.“This is terrific news for low-fare customers who want greater access to New York City,” Southwest Chief Commercial Officer Bob Jordan said.American also needs to divest 52 takeoff and landing slots at Washington Reagan National Airport as part of the settlement. Those slots will be part of a separate transaction.Separately, Southwest Airlines said it will close its operations at the Branson, Mo.; Jackson-Evers, Miss.; and Key West, Fla., airports as of June 7. The carrier had added Branson and Key West when it bought AirTran Airways in 2011.“Unfortunately, the level of local demand no longer allows Southwest to profitably serve these markets,” Jordan said.Employees at those locations can apply for jobs elsewhere in Southwest’s network, the company said.
Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631 Twitter: @Sky_Talk