Flight Review: AirTran Airways Business Class PIT-TPA

May 6, 2013

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I recently had two press interviews in Pittsburgh and then one in Tampa the following day. I didn’t have much flexibility in terms of scheduling and I wanted to fly nonstop from Pittsburgh to Tampa, so my only option was to book on AirTran, which I haven’t flown since college when I got a super-cheap Vegas fare and needless to say I don’t even really remember those flights so I was excited to try a new product out. Three days before my scheduled departure date I was able to book a nonstop 2:20pm flight in business class for $376.90.

AirTran Airways Boeing 717
AirTran Airways Boeing 717

The aircraft was a Boeing 717, part of a fleet that was launched in 1998 – though Southwest will sublease AirTran’s 88 717’s to Delta when the merger becomes complete. I was interested to see what the quality of the aircraft would be and I have to say I had some low expectations, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, though the 717 was small, I was actually a lot more comfortable than I am on American or Delta’s MD80’s where my knees hit the seat in front of me.

The biggest issue was that there was no running water – I can’t remember when I was last on a plane where that was the case – but thankfully it was a relatively short flight so it wasn’t too much of a problem. It did, however, mean that the toilets didn’t flush and there were no hot beverages like coffee and tea. At least they announced that this would be the case before boarding started.

My Business class seat
My Business class seat

This plane has 117 seats, 12 of which are Business and the rest coach in a three-by-two arrangement. Economy was packed, but the business class cabin was  empty except for myself and just two other passengers so the airline was offering upgrades from coach to business for $80. When I purchased my ticket, the price of a coach seat was $287. Tacking on an extra $80 for a two hour flight and a little bit of a roomier seat is probably not worth it for most folks, though I would have considered it since I am so tall. I only paid a little bit more than that would have cost for a confirmed seat in business class, so I didn’t have to take any chances.

The snack selection was very basic, Cheese Nips, Milano cookies, and Walkers shortbread cookies.
The snack selection was very basic, Cheese Nips, Milano cookies, and Walkers shortbread cookies.

The main thing that stood out to me on the flight was the service. As I boarded I took some photos, as usual, but one of the flight attendants noticed me and came storming up asking what I was doing and whether I was part of the FAA, otherwise I shouldn’t be taking photos. I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not, and I didn’t want to get kicked off the plane, so I remained polite and she let me off the hook, but it was a bizarre encounter.

The service on the flight was very casual and informal – almost to the point of being too jokey and crass during the announcements, but at least all the flight attendants were pleasant once we got in the air.  They had a very limited snack basket with some Milano cookies, Cheese Nips, and Walkers shortbread cookies, but they were (very) generous with the drinks, and I did enjoy a refreshing cranberry and vodka after a busy morning rushing around. Unlike some other business/first experiences, they just brought me the bottle of vodka and can of juice and I mixed it myself.

The aircraft is equipped with Gogo® Inflight Internet
The aircraft is equipped with Gogo Inflight Internet

My favorite part of course was having internet access throughout the flight – which beats a lot of other domestic airlines! AirTran even uses Gogo Inflight Internet so I was happy to be able to use my monthly subscription instead of purchasing WiFi through a separate service like I had to do when I recently flew Southwest.

All in all, it was a very decent flight experience, and I’d do it again, especially because this was the most convenient option on a sort of random route.

In terms of miles, I put in my A+ Rewards number when booking but for some reason it wasn’t on my boarding pass or in the computer when I flew, so I’m going to have to request credit retroactively – though I will probably use my Rapid Rewards number since starting on April 14, you could start booking AirTran flights using Rapid Rewards points or cash on the Southwest site and you can also start using your Companion Pass to travel on either airline.

When it comes to using your Southwest Rapid Rewards for AirTran flights, since the airlines are still not fully integrated the process isn’t seamless. Members in both loyalty programs can transfer their Rapid Rewards Points, active credits, active awards, and active A+ Rewards Credits, between the two loyalty programs. So if you want to book AirTran flights, you must convert your Southwest Rapid Reward Points to AirTran A+ Rewards Credits. The conversion rate is 1,200 Rapid Reward Points equals to 1 AirTran A+ Rewards Credit, and points must be converted in increments of 300 points. A one-way coach flight award require 8 AirTran A+ Rewards Credit and a one-way business class flight award requires 16 A+ Rewards Credits. So I would have needed to convert 19,200 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for my flight. Because I have the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold and Ink Plus cards, I could have transferred my points from any of them to Southwest Rapid Rewards and then to A+ points for this redemption to get a value of 1.96 cents per point, just about the value of Southwest Rapid Rewards points for Wanna Get Away fares.

That sounds like a laborious process, so I’m not in a hurry to do it myself, but I will keep AirTran in mind for my future travels since it has some international routes Southwest does not including to Mexico and the Caribbean, and it’s effectively another transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards thanks to its partnership with Southwest, giving you even more options for your Ultimate Rewards points.

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