Southwest-AirTran merger could help customers saveA possible merger between discount airlines AirTran and Southwest has had many worried that airfares could be on the rise. But could a merger between the two companies actually make air travel prices more affordable?

For people that live in rural areas, the answer could actually be yes. The problem for many rural travelers is that, in many cases, only one carrier flies in and out of their small airports. That's why travelers who wish to fly nonstop from Omaha to Atlanta could end up paying as much as $825 - more than $200 more than it would cost to fly nonstop to New York, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

But a merger between Southwest and AirTran could open up more possible routes for rural travelers, encouraging competition and driving down prices. In fact, the paper reports that within a year, average fares for the cities served out of Omaha by Southwest fell by 40 percent - a phenomenon known as "the Southwest effect.''

"You're going to get some real price pressure if Southwest is moving into those markets," Scott Tarry, director of the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told the paper. "It will be a real benefit for Omaha travelers."

Customers could save in other ways, too. Southwest has said that it will continue to allow passengers to check bags for free, despite AirTran's policy of charging $20 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second.
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