Southwest Airlines next week will cut the ribbon not only on a new international concourse at Houston Hobby, but also on the next phase of its international growth plan — a deep dive into Latin America and the Caribbean.
For most of its existence, Southwest deliberately flew only domestic routes, but that changed with its acquisition of AirTran. Southwest has been picking up AirTran’s transborder routes and making plans for expansion, in large part with a new international wing of its Houston Hobby terminal that will open October 15.
On that date, Southwest will inaugurate a number of new routes from Hobby, including Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico; Belize City, Belize; and San Jose, Costa Rica. On November 1, it will add flights from HOU to Liberia/Guanacaste, Costa Rica and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
By the end of this year, according to a report in Bloomberg News, Southwest will be flying to 12 destinations in eight Latin American and Caribbean countries — no doubt with more to come, since the airline has reportedly identified 50 cities outside the U.S. that its 737-800s can reach. Southwest is also building another international terminal at Ft. Lauderdale, due for completion in 2017.
Other U.S. carriers also have their eyes on Latin American expansion. Just in the past few days, JetBlue launched new service to Mexico City from Ft. Lauderdale and from Orlando, and said it will begin flying from Ft. Lauderdale to Quito, Ecuador in February 2016. And American announced plans for a new route from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Merida, Mexico next March. (On the other hand, United recently suspended its nine-month-old Denver-Panama City, Panama flights, although it might revive them on a limited basis.)
All this activity by big, well-capitalized U.S. airlines must be causing some concerns for Latin American carriers that have their own plans for growth in the U.S. market, like Panama’s Copa, which recently launched a new route to San Francisco.
Do you plan to fly Southwest to Latin America or the Caribbean? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below.
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