July 1, 2014 will be a major milestone date for Southwest Airlines as it takes ownership of its first international routes, which it currently serves via subsidiary carrier AirTran Airways.
Southwest currently offers service to seven Mexican and Caribbean markets via AirTran: San Jose del Cabo, Mexico City, Cancun, Nassau, Montego Bay, Punta Cana and Aruba. Southwest already serves Caribbean market San Juan, Puerto Rico on its own metal, which was its first destination outside of the lower 48 U.S. states when service commenced on April 14, 2013. Southwest flies from San Juan to Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and plans to add a seasonal service to Houston Hobby in June.
Elsewhere from the Caribbean and Mexico, Southwest flies (via AirTran) between:
- San Jose del Cabo and Orange County, Denver and Austin
- Mexico City and Orange County and San Antonio
- Cancun and Denver, Austin, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Chicago Midway, Atlanta and Baltimore/Washington
- Nassau and Baltimore/Washington and Atlanta
- Montego Bay and Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Atlanta and Orlando
- Punta Cana and Atlanta, Chicago Midway and Baltimore/Washington
- Aruba and Orlando, Atlanta and Baltimore/Washington
Southwest will officially convert 7 of the aforementioned AirTran routes to operate on its own metal on July 1, starting with the following city pairs:
- Atlanta to Aruba (daily)
- Atlanta to Montego Bay (daily)
- Baltimore/Washington to Aruba (daily)
- Baltimore/Washington to Montego Bay (daily)
- Baltimore to Nassau (daily)
- Orlando to Aruba (6 weekly)
- Orlando to Montego Bay (daily)
On August 1, 2014, Southwest will convert an additional 5 existing AirTran routes to operate on its own metal, including
- Atlanta to Cancun (8 weekly)
- Atlanta to Nassau (1 weekly)
- Baltimore/Washington to Cancun (9 weekly)
- Milwaukee to Cancun (1 weekly)
- Orange County to San Jose del Cabo (1 daily)
In October 2014, Southwest will replace 2 more routes on AirTran:
- Denver to Cancun (1 daily, eff October 7)
- Denver to San Jose del Cabo (1 weekly, eff October 11)
These conversions will cover 14 of the 24 routes currently served on AirTran to transborder markets. Further announcements are expected by Southwest to occur in the latter portion of 2014 as it has announced intentions to retire the AirTran brand by the end of the year and become a fully, integrated carrier.
Moreover, the conversions also precede further enhancements to Southwest’s route network when it launches international services from Houston Hobby airport (HOU) once its Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility is complete by next year. Southwest pushed to build facilities to support international flights back in 2012 which was approved by the Houston City Council, with intentions to come live sometime next year. Initially-targeted markets in a viability study included Cancun, Mexico City, San Jose (Costa Rica), San Jose del Cabo, San Salvador, Guadalajara, Liberia (Costa Rica), Monterrey and Puerto Vallarta.
Southwest will likely turn much of its attention onto Houston once the construction project reaches completion at HOU. Hobby airport is, by far, the best candidate for transborder services given its mid-continent location, existing size and strength in the Southwest network, and its ability to cater to the high volume of O&D traffic between Houston and Central America.