AirTran has its ups and downs. Back in August, I marveled at how that airline--which seemed as disorganized as anything could possibly be--had been given the top spot among all U.S. airlines (as opposed to top among the legacy carriers, a distinction held by Continental). I also discussed how AirTran's Business Class offered roomy and comfortable seats but failed to provide the level of service that usually accompanies the term "business class."
Based on the six flights that I took with AirTran that month, including three segments on which I sat in Business Class and three flown in Coach, I was prepared to write off AirTran as a personal travel preference. Yesterday, though, the company surprised me with a new policy: effective immediately, AirTran A+ Elite members will get complimentary upgrades at the gate when space is available regardless of the fare code that they've booked. (Until now, complimentary upgrades were limited to full- and mid-fare Coach tickets, corresponding to AirTran's Y, B, and M classes.)
Now, Continental offers complimentary upgrades to OnePass elite members, and my Platinum status makes it pretty rare for me to end up in Coach except by choice (as is the case whenever I use miles to scoop up a Coach reward ticket for my fiancee). Most of the legacy carriers also offer the other benefits that AirTran gives to its A+ Elites, including dedicated Elite reservation and check-in lines, and even AirTran's reciprocal status agreement with Frontier (which gives A+ Elites the same privileges as EarlyReturns Summit members on Frontier flights) is comparable to the alliance status that one would find among oneworld, Star Alliance, or SkyTeam airlines.
In other words, AirTran isn't doing anything new for the industry. But AirTran is breaking new ground by doing these things as a low-cost carrier; rivals like JetBlue, SouthWest, and Virgin America have nothing comparable to these amenities.
At a time when the legacy carriers are cutting back--particularly when even my favorite airline Continental has decided to add a checked baggage fee for the first piece of luggage--it is a refreshing surprise to AirTran actually expanding its amenities. I was prepared to discount the discount carrier on future trips, but given this latest development, I'll keep AirTran in mind whenever my first choice isn't feasible.
Other business travelers may want to do the same.