Southwest Airlines Co. showed off a new $156 million Houston airport concourse, a big part of its plan to expand international flights.
Next week, Southwest will begin flying from Houston's Hobby Airport to Mexico City, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos in Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Belize City, Belize. On Nov. 1, it will add Houston to Liberia, Costa Rica.
Houston "will be our focus for quite some time," Gary Kelly, chairman, president and CEO, said Thursday during a Southwest media event at Hobby Airport. He said the airline would launch a similar campaign to expand international flying from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2017 or 2018.
Southwest offered no international service when it bought AirTran Airways in 2011. Since inheriting AirTran routes to Mexico and the Caribbean, Southwest has slowly added a few more destinations on its own.
Other airlines are eager to serve Cuba. Kelly said only that Cuba is one of about 50 potential destinations for Southwest.
On another subject, Kelly said Southwest has no plans to start charging for checking a bag or two. Earlier this year, JetBlue Airways imposed bag-checking fees for customers who buy the cheapest tickets. Many Wall Street analysts believe Southwest is losing money by not also charging for bags.
Kelly said, however, that the bags-fly-free approach generates nearly $1 billion a year in extra ticket sales. Charging bag fees now, he said, "would be really dumb."