The two unions representing more than 12,000 flight attendants at Southwest Airlines Co. and AirTran Airways Inc. have reached an agreement about seniority and other issues, which are key steps toward full integration.

Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents about 10,000 Southwest flight attendants, said Monday that it and the Association of Flight Attendants Council 57, which represents about 2,400 flight attendants at AirTran reached an agreement that provides seniority enhancements and job security for Southwest flight attendants and will boost the wages and benefits of AirTran flight attendants to the level of their peers at Southwest.

The union agreement, while not the last needed by the two carriers, is a key step because it represents the largest group of employees at Southwest and AirTran.

Dallas-based Southwest completed its acquisition of its smaller rival AirTran Holdings Inc. in May. Since then, Southwest and AirTran have continued to operate as separate brands and carriers, but its employees have begun working the timetable to combine the two.

Southwest officials have said they expect to obtain Federal Aviation Administration approval to combine the two carriers under a single operating certificate in the first quarter of 2012.

Under the flight attendants’ agreement, Southwest also committed to opening a flight attendants’ base Atlanta, where most AirTran crews live and home to the nation’s largest airport.

“The union and company negotiating teams never lost focus on the ultimate goal of creating an integrated seniority list and transition plan for our flight attendants — one that avoided arbitration,” Southwest chief operating officer Mike Van de Ven said Monday in a statement.

“TWU Local 556 and AFA Council 57 worked hard to reach an agreement that recognizes the major contributions of our flight attendants, is fair and equitable and preserves the success and culture of Southwest Airlines,” TWU Thom McDaniel, president of the Southwest TWU local, said Monday in a statement.

Officials from the Association of Flight Attendants Council 57 did not return phone calls or email messages on Monday.

Flight attendants for both unions must vote on the agreement in January, but no dates have been set yet.

Last month, the two unions representing more than 7,700 pilots at Southwest and AirTran reached an agreement about seniority and operations, and the union committees for Southwest and AirTran’s mechanics agreed to a proposal to integrate their seniority lists.

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