Starting today, Southwest Airlines can call itself an international carrier as it kicks off service to Aruba, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
On July 1, the Dallas-based carrier will fly to Aruba and Montego Bay, Jamaica, from Atlanta, Baltimore, and Orlando. It will also fly to Nassau in the Bahamas from Baltimore. On Aug. 10, it adds flights to Cancun and Los Cabos, Mexico from Milwaukee and Orange County, Calif., and on Nov. 2, it expands service to Mexico City or the Caribbean from cities, including Austin, Chicago, and San Antonio, Tex.
So why should you care? For cost-conscious consumers, it could mean cheaper fares and competition increases.
"Most of these routes are overfared,'' Bob Jordan, Southwest's executive vice president and chief commercial officer said in January.
The low-cost carrier has grown to become the largest carrier of passengers within the U.S., and although its international service will be miniscule compared to legacy carriers, the airlines sees massive potential.
"It's huge," Southwest executive Teresa Laraba told the Dallas Morning News last week. "Obviously we've been waiting for 43 years to get to this point. It's a pretty big deal. It's such an opportunity for us to plant our name and flag in international waters, and we've never done it. We are pretty excited around this place."
Currently AirTran Airways, a carrier acquired by Southwest in May 2011, services those cities. AirTran will begin pulling out, and on Dec. 28, it will operate its last flight, from Atlanta to Tampa, Fla., as it finishes its integration into Southwest.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told USA Today that its push into the international market will give consumers more choices of cities to fly from.
"That's a really neat thing about Southwest," he said. "We have a lot of flights in a lot of places. So unlike our legacy competition -- where they have three or four focal points in the United States -- we've got 30. So we'll have international flights from an array of markets and more than what we're serving from today."
Southwest said it is eyeing Alaska and Hawaii as it considers future expansion.