DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It was a different kind of drum roll that welcomed what Southwest Airlines called a “historic day and terrific milestone.”
To the sound of steel drums, the Dallas-based carrier announced that starting in July, travelers will be able to fly on Southwest internationally — for the first time in its 43 year history.
The airline will fly nonstop to Aruba, Jamaica and The Bahamas. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly CBS 11 News, “Huge, this is huge.”
The nonstop service will include: Atlanta to Aruba and Montego Bay, Jamaica; Baltimore to Aruba, Nassau in the Bahamas, and Montego Bay (twice daily), and Orlando to Aruba and Montego Bay.
Notice Dallas Love Field isn’t on that list, and it won’t be because of the agreement to end flight restrictions, known as the Wright Amendment, on October 13.
But Kelly remains upbeat. “Dallas will do fine. We’ll have not as good as a nonstop, but the next best thing. You’ll have good low fares, and certainly, bring a lot of competition to DFW Airport which is what we’re all in favor of.”
Southwest’s new international service for now will continue to be operated on Air Tran, which is in the process of being integrated into Southwest.
Air Tran will continue flying to Mexico and The Dominican Republic through the end of the year.
Southwest says it will consider expanding next year to other international destinations where other airlines charge higher fares.
Mark Drusch, a former executive at Delta and Continental Airlines, says Southwest has a lot of potential. “If Southwest really believes it can go in and lower the fares, consumers will benefit greatly.”
Drusch says flying international routes may be historic for Southwest, but is certainly not groundbreaking. “They are actually playing catch-up to the rest of the industry which is unusual because Southwest usually leads the industry.”
I asked Southwest’s CEO if the airline’s new international flights are a bold step or conservative.
Kelly said, “So there’s a time to be measured and patient and there’s time to be aggressive. This is new and I think we are humble enough to realize we have some things to learn. We want to make sure we sustain our profitability.”
At the end of next year, Southwest will offer nonstop international flights from Houston Hobby Airport. Drusch believes Southwest will grow its international network through Houston and Phoenix in the future.
Kelly says for now, they are not considering buying larger aircraft, but he wouldn’t rule it out in the long term.
Just last year, Southwest took delivery of its largest jets, the Boeing 737-800.
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