AirTran shareholders agree to Southwest purchase

Shareholders of AirTran Holdings on Wednesday agreed to a proposed acquisition by Southwest Airlines.

The acquisition opens the door for Southwest’s entry into a number of key markets nationwide, including Atlanta.

In September, Southwest announced it was buying AirTran Airways for $1.4 billion. The deal, which is pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, is expected to be finalized next quarter.

At a special meeting in Orlando on Wednesday, more than 98.6 percent of votes, representing 77.5 percent of shares, were cast in favor of the acquisition, officials said.

“We appreciate the confidence AirTran shareholders have in Southwest to continue the good work of AirTran’s hardworking (employees) who have made AirTran a successful airline over the past 17 years,” Gary Kelly, chairman, CEO and president of Southwest Airlines, said in a news release. “This approval is another important and exciting step toward completing the transaction and beginning the integration of AirTran into Southwest to ultimately serve the flying public as one carrier.”

The combined airline’s operations are expected to be fully merged by 2012, officials previously said.

“We are grateful for our stockholders’ strong vote of confidence in this merger,” Bob Fornaro, AirTran’s chairman, president and CEO, said in a news release. “In approving the transaction, our stockholders recognized the value of bringing together AirTran and Southwest to create a platform for increased profitability and sustainable long-term value.”

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