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Soaring to New Heights
from Trust the Leaders Issue 8, Summer 2004
In 2003, history and aviation buffs celebrated one of the most important milestones of our century — the 100th anniversary of flight.
That same year, AirTran Airways celebrated its 10th anniversary and seventh consecutive quarter of profitability, a remarkable accomplishment given the major industry fallout and bankruptcies following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
But today’s $900-million company boasts some very humble beginnings, launching its maiden voyage back in 1993 — with four individual investors and an office full of build-it-yourself furniture built by each new staff member.
Once they had built their desks, the next concern for staff members in the early days was office equipment. At the beginning, there were no computers to help automate the reservations process. AirTran Airways booked customers over the phone, often receiving the check in the mail after passengers had already flown.
During a special 10-year celebration event last year, more than 3,000 employees, whom AirTran Airways calls Crew Members, had a chance to hear stories of the carrier’s first days of service from many fellow Crew Members who were around to witness the airline’s first flight.
Over time, the company blossomed from its meager beginnings flying to two destinations using three aircraft, into one of the fastest-growing and most profitable airlines in the country. Just last year, AirTran Airways added several new destinations to its route map — Denver, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and enhanced service between existing markets.
AirTran Airways also carries the distinction of having the youngest all-Boeing fleet in America. Along the way, many Crew Members never forgot the secret of their success.
At AirTran Airways “you’re able to wear a lot of different hats,” says human resources manager Amy Morris. “I’m able to expand and to do a lot more things than I would have been able to at other airlines.”
“People just took care of this airline. It was like watching your children grow up,” says human resources specialist Linda Gold. “That’s exactly how everyone felt about this airline. We just loved it; it was very much a part of us.”
Complaint Resolution Officer Deena Houghton adds, “Thinking back on how small we were in the beginning and how big we are now, there’s some satisfaction in knowing that I was part of that.”
The airline’s growth will continue this year as AirTran Airways plans to announce new point-to-point service in several markets, begin offering XM Satellite Radio on every flight and also start taking delivery of the first of 100 Boeing 737 aircraft, which will more than double the fleet size by 2008. In fact, with the help of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, AirTran Airways was able to negotiate this multibillion dollar order with Boeing in just eight days.
“AirTran Airways continues to defy the odds with our growth in the past several years and our ability to grow for years to come,” observes Joe Leonard, AirTran Airways’ chairman and CEO.
As a valued Smith, Gambrell & Russell client for many years, AirTran Airways today operates 531 daily flights to 45 destinations with 75 aircraft. Not bad for an organization where new Crew Members once were responsible for building their own desks.