I doubt they ever intended to keep the aircraft, and I doubt further they will be re-painted. But they had to sell the acquisition somehow, right?
From Southwest's September announcement FAQ on lowfaresfarther.com
Q: Do you plan to keep AirTran’s Boeing 717s?
A: We will continue to operate the Boeing 717, which we intend to transition to the Southwest livery over time.
Q: This is a deviation from your single-fleet strategy. Will that impact efficiency?
A: With a fleet of 86 Boeing 717s, the fleet is large enough to schedule efficiently. We are excited about the possibilities of scheduling a slightly smaller gauge aircraft. We believe the 717 will allow us to better match seasonal demand without necessarily changing frequency in a market. In addition, the 717 will allow us to consider markets and cities that historically have been considered too small for Southwest service.
And now as reported yesterday
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly declared to attendees today at the International Aviation Forecast Summit hosted by the Boyd Group that the 717 does not "bring any unique benefit that Southwest cannot get with the 737".
Kelly stated the 717 is roughly the same size and offers close to same economics as the 737-500s the carrier operates. However, he did highlight higher maintenance costs on the Rolls-Royce engines powering the 717s.
Rising fuel costs are also leading to some 717 markets operated by AirTran to become unsustainable, as evidenced by the carrier's decision to cut four markets that are all or partially served by 717s - Asheville, NC; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Moline, Illinois and Newport News, Virginia.
Underscoring that smaller-gauge aircraft are tough to operate in those markets as fuel costs climb, Kelly said in the long term he does not see the 717 playing a strategic role in Southwest's fleet.
He stated some of the lease expirations on the 717s begin in 2017 and continue through 2024. Southwest is in discussions with Boeing regarding the 717 leases, Kelly explained.
FWIW, I think WN is trying to work Boeing on this one. I don't know if they'll stay or go--I'd love to see them stay, but I doubt we'd see them much over here on the west coast anytime soon, if at all.
Originally Posted by BillyBaloney
Wherever the 717's wind up, that will be my new airline of choice.
Just hope they don't end up in Russia or out in Turkmenistan.
Originally Posted by LegalTender
Agree. Hope DL picks them up. Beside 2x3 seating, The 717 is among the quietest.
Any aircraft with tail-mounted engines are quiet in the front. I just took a MD-90 ride a few weeks ago on DL and forgot how quiet that plane is. It's a sweet ride.