ATA's bankruptcy to propel airlines' bid for customers

CHICAGO: Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways will soon be locked in a PR battle to lure new customers to Chicago's Midway International Airport, thanks to the recent bankruptcy filing by ATA Airlines.

CHICAGO: Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways will soon be locked in a PR battle to lure new customers to Chicago's Midway International Airport, thanks to the recent bankruptcy filing by ATA Airlines.

Southwest, which works with Porter Novelli's New York office for PR, plans to step up involvement with various special events in the Chicago market as it starts its new flights there.

"We'll be getting our name out there a little bit more and letting everyone know they can depend on Southwest Airlines," said Whitney Eichinger, regional PR manager.

Southwest announced last week that it would add 16 flights early next year at Midway, Chicago's smaller airport, which has grown in recent years because of the boom in low-cost carriers.

ATA, which had been Midway's largest carrier, filed for bankruptcy late last month and cut a deal with AirTran that led to that airline taking over former ATA flights and gates at Midway. AirTran had only one flight from Midway before its ATA deal, so it is relatively unknown among Chicago consumers.

An AirTran spokeswoman said it was too early to discuss its PR plans for the Chicago market. The airline uses Chicago-based agency Cramer-Krasselt for advertising and PR.

But AirTran faces a difficult marketing battle with Southwest, said Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant whose firm, RW Mann, is based in Port Washington, NY.

"The overwhelming issue is how aggressive Southwest will be," he said. "They are the 500-pound gorilla of the low-cost carrier segment. I think there's going to be a battle there."

AirTran has done some creative image-building work in the Southeast and along the East Coast in New York, Baltimore, and Boston, he noted.

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