Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 (29840/2536) N913WN taxies at John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA/KSNA) on September 27, 2014 sporting the carriers new livery.
(Photo by Michael Carter)
Southwest Airlines maintains the US Department of Transportation (DOT) should reallocate one of United Airline’s designations for service between Houston and San Jose del Cabo and Mexico City, arguing that its service is more in the public interest than the regional jet flights operated by Utah-based SkyWest Airlines on behalf of United.
The Dallas-based low-cost carrier started its first Southwest-branded international service last year and has been signaling its intent to expand its international network through DOT filings applying for Mexico route authorities.
The terms of the current US-Mexico bilateral air services agreement limit operations between city pairs to two or three carriers from each country. United and its regional partner SkyWest Airlines currently hold the two designations for the routes Southwest is applying for.
In a filing last week, United argued that DOT precedent should require a formal carrier selection proceeding to determine whether the designations should be reallocated. United also said Southwest has not guaranteed its new international terminal at Houston Hobby Airport would be completed in time to operate Mexico flights by October, when Southwest said it plans to begin service.
Southwest refuted these claims and called them a delaying tactic. In awarding United and SkyWest the designations, DOT said it could reallocate one of the authorities if a new entrant carrier expressed interest in either of the routes, Southwest said in its filing.
“DOT should reject these transparent attempts to delay Southwest’s competitive service,” Southwest argued in its filing. United’s claim that Hobby Airport will not be ready in time is a “red herring,” Southwest said, as the terminal construction is on track.
Southwest argued the delay tactics will do it harm, as it plans to begin marketing the routes in February in order to begin operating them in October.
United also had asked DOT to grant “extra-bilateral” rights to Southwest for its proposed service. This would allow United to keep its two designations and create room for Southwest to compete.
Southwest rejected this, arguing that it does not need “extra-bilateral relief,” because as a new entrant it is entitled to the designation. The recently negotiated US-Mexico air services treaty, which removes city-pair limits, may not go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016 as United claims, so Southwest is pushing for these designations.
The city of Houston weighed in to say DOT should push Mexico into changing how it interprets the current bilateral agreement to allow mainline airlines and their regional partners to operate with one designation.
Currently, a regional carrier and the mainline airline count as two separate designations, even if the regional flights are marketed under the mainline airline’s brand.