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Your airline here, at least for now

Mergers, new flight schedules have Logan’s gate lineup in flux

By Katie Johnston
Globe Staff / October 27, 2011

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Call it the airport shuffle.

As Southwest takes over AirTran, United and Continental merge, JetBlue expands in Boston, and American shrinks operations here, Logan International Airport is embarking on a massive juggling act.

Airlines will shift into new terminals and gates. Terminal directories will be updated. Passenger waiting areas will be remodeled. It’s the type of upheaval that airports around the country have been facing in recent years as airlines consolidate and reposition flights to shore up profits.

“The scale of the change has been rather significant and verging on the unprecedented,’’ said Chris Oswald, vice president of safety and technical operations at Airports Council International-North America.

At Logan, the reconfiguring starts Tuesday night, when AirTran Airways moves from Terminal C to Terminal E, where it will be positioned alongside its new owner, Southwest Airlines. Wednesday morning, after workers move podiums and ground equipment and adjust roadway signs and terminal directories, AirTran will be open for business in its new location.

“If you’re leaving on [Oct.] the 31st and coming back on [Nov.] 2d, you may not recognize where you are,’’ said Pete Houghton, senior director of properties for Southwest, adding that passengers will be notified about the change.

Southwest and AirTran will have five gates combined in Terminal E, one less than they operate now as Southwest prepares to drop its Philadelphia-Boston service in February. The airline, citing high fuel costs, is also axing its Philadelphia service out of Providence and Manchester in January.

JetBlue Airways, which has become the biggest carrier at Logan and continues to expand, will take over AirTran’s ticket counter and three gates in Terminal C. Over the next two weeks, the carrier will install new podiums, carpet, ceiling tiles, lighting, and signs; adjust jet bridge passageways from the terminal to the plane to accommodate JetBlue’s planes; and wire phones, computer systems, and public address systems.

On Nov. 16, Spirit Airlines is moving from the east side of Terminal B, where American Airlines operates, to the west side to have US Airways take over its ground operations - including fueling, baggage, cleaning, and ticketing. American Eagle, which is ceasing operations at Logan Nov. 17, currently provides those services for Spirit.

With American Eagle leaving and its parent company American Airlines cutting flights out of Boston, 20,000 square feet will be free in Terminal B. Massachusetts Port Authority officials plan to incorporate this space into a more than $40 million expansion to accommodate a larger United Airlines, which is merging with Continental Airlines.

United is now in Terminal C, and Continental in Terminal A. The project is scheduled for completion in 2013.

Moving United out of Terminal C will solve another dilemma for Logan officials, who may soon have to find more room for JetBlue, which plans to increase its daily flights out of Boston to 150 from 100 by 2015. If all goes as planned, JetBlue will take over almost all of Terminal C, save for Cape Air’s single gate.

“This is a puzzle. It’s really an orchestration,’’ said Edward Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan.

Flights out of Boston are spread fairly evenly among several carriers, so when they adjust service, Logan generally has fewer complications than hub airports, where one or two airlines dominate.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, for example, lost half its passengers between 2007 and 2010 due to the recession and the merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines. As a result, the airport closed one of its terminals and plans to mothball another next year.

Mergers may not trigger this kind of rapid passenger decline at Logan, but an event such as 9/11 can, and Massport officials keep that in mind as they undertake renovations and expansions.

Logan’s steady increase in passengers - expected to hit a record 29 million this year - has supported airport improvements, but Massport officialsexpect passengergrowth to level off if airlines continue raising prices and cutting flights.

“We walk a fine line when we do this planning,’’ Freni said. “You don’t want to build something and find it a ghost town.’’

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.