Southwest Airlines jets at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on May 16, 2008.
(Photo: Charles Dharapak, AP)
(USA TODAY) -- Southwest, which grew to carry more domestic passengers than any U.S.
airline, began selling tickets Monday for international flights, the
start of a significant shift for the low-cost domestic carrier.
Starting July 1, travelers will for the first time be able to fly Southwest overseas, to Aruba, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
announcement, complete with steel drums playing at a news conference at
Southwest's Dallas headquarters, was hailed as historic by Southwest
officials who noted that the 43-year-old carrier was created to focus on
"To make that shift in strategy has taken a
huge effort,'' said Gary Kelly, Southwest's president and CEO. But, he
added, as a leading domestic carrier, it was time "that we think about
Southwest will have daily, non-stop flights
between Atlanta and Aruba and Montego Bay in Jamaica, as well as between
Baltimore and Aruba, and Nassau in the Bahamas. There will be twice a
day flights between Baltimore and Montego Bay, and on Saturdays only
between Orlando and Aruba and Montego Bay.
A key reason Southwest
bought its one-time rival, AirTran, in 2011 was to help it push into
international markets. The three Caribbean destinations announced Monday
mark the beginning of Southwest integrating AirTran's overseas routes.
"It's tangible proof of the progress of the merger,'' said Henry Harteveldt, aviation expert at Hudson Crossing.
July, AirTran will continue to fly internationally, operating flights
between Chicago's Midway Airport and Montego Bay, Jamaica, for instance.
But by the end of the year all international service by AirTran will
shift over to Southwest.
travel is outpacing domestic when it comes to growth, spurring U.S.
carriers to increasingly focus overseas to boost profits. And Southwest
sees the low fares that have helped make it successful in the U.S.
having similar appeal for travelers flying abroad.
of these routes are overfared,'' Bob Jordan, Southwest's executive vice
president and chief commercial officer, said during the news
conference. "It's a very substantial opportunity for Southwest Airlines.
... It's a big, big component of our growth strategy.''
Southwest began building its first international terminal, at Houston's William P. Hobby Airport, in September.
Southwest still won't compete on a global level with its larger
network peers, Harteveldt said Southwest may give carriers like Delta
and JetBlue a run for their money with its new flights to the Caribbean.
they offer fares that people find attractive and affordable,'' he said.
"And Southwest backs it up with amenities like free checked baggage.
... Southwest has a loyal base of customers and no doubt will be a
very, very strong competitor in this region.''
said he's also curious to see where else Southwest will spread its
wings, beyond the overseas destinations already served by AirTran.
"I'm interested to see where in a year or so we start to see
Southwest ... add new flights to new destinations that were not
previously operated by AirTran,'' he said. Harteveldt added that there
might be opportunities for new flights from Phoenix to Mexico, for
instance, or between Houston and parts of South America.
Southwest officials said Monday that the focus this year will be
on completing its integration of planes, crews and flights with AirTran.
But it may launch service to additional overseas destinations in 2015.
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