Thursday, April 5, 2018

Southwest eyes adding US gateways to international destinations

Southwest Airlines’s near-term international focus will be to add more US gateways, EVP and chief revenue officer Andrew Watterson told an audience at the International Aviation Club in Washington DC.

The Dallas-based carrier will operate 65 international routes from 23 US gateways by July 2018, up from just four US airports from which it operated international flights when it started flying beyond the US in 2014.

Southwest flies to 15 international destinations in 10 countries, with Cancun (Mexico), San José del Cabo (Mexico) and Montego Bay (Jamaica) being its three largest international destinations.

“Now it’s more about US gateways [than adding new international destinations] because as a point-to-point carrier, you don’t serve all of these international points from one or two gateways,” Watterson explained. “We’ve zoomed up to 23 gateways and I expect that to keep growing. Now it’s more about connecting the dots than adding new [international] dots.”

After 44 years of being a domestic-only carrier, Southwest began flying internationally in July 2014, operating a small number of routes it inherited from AirTran Airways, which Southwest acquired in 2011. It has since developed a larger Caribbean/Mexico-focused international network.

Watterson said Southwest does plan to eventually operate to Canada, but is waiting for the right economic conditions to launch north-of-the-border service. “It’s not a matter of if but when,” he said. The relative weakness of the Canadian dollar versus the US dollar—$1 is currently worth C$1.58—has deterred Southwest, Watterson explained.

Operating to Canada “is probably a couple of years in the future,” he said. “The [Canadian] economic situation doesn’t appear as ripe as some of the other areas where we’re flying.”

Watterson said Southwest is open to extending its international reach through interline and codeshare flights, but will be cautious about doing so. He noted Southwest does not contract out any domestic flying to regional carriers in contrast to rivals such as American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

Codesharing is “something that’s on our roadmap” internationally, Watterson said, although he cautioned the carrier is “not there yet.” And even when Southwest does codeshare, it will be “a modest part of the business,” he said. “We’d much rather have customers fly on our metal.” 

(Aaron Karp - Aviation Daily / ATWOnline News)

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