This was also a 2010 story, dating from the Sept. 27, 2010, announcement that the two low-cost carriers would be joining forces.

But Southwest didn’t close the deal until May 2, 2011, shortly after the U.S. Justice Department gave its blessing or, more accurately, didn’t put a big frown on it.

With the addition of AirTran, Southwest added 140 airplanes, nearly 8,000 employees and several dozen airports, including the largest market it did not yet serve – Atlanta.

The merger is still very much a work in progress. Southwest won’t get a single operating certificate until sometime in 2012, probably early in the year. After it gets that approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, Southwest can begin the task of moving airplanes and their flight crews from AirTran to Southwest.

Pilots for the two airlines have approved a plan to combine their seniority lists, but other unions are still working out that task. In some airports, Southwest has combined its gates and ground facilities with those of AirTran, but much more remains to be done.

Next year is when Southwest can really get busy at reshaping AirTran’s route system in advance of combining its network with that of Southwest.

But a good start was made in 2011.

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