Southwest goes international

January 28, 2014

U.S. low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is set to launch international service to the nearby Caribbean under its own colors July 1.

That’s when the US’s largest domestic airline in terms of origin and destination passengers takes over seven sun-n-fun routes now operated by AirTran. Southwest merged with the smaller airline, in the process getting AirTran’s fleet of Boeing 737-700s.

Southwest will use AirTran 737s – but now in Southwest colors and interiors – on the following routes:

–       Atlanta – Aruba

–       Atlanta – Montego Bay

–       Baltimore/Washington – Aruba

–       Baltimore/Washington – Nassau

–       Baltimore/Washington – Montego Bay

–       Orlando – Aruba

–       Orlando – Montego Bay

The last two runs are Saturday-only affairs.

The former AirTran 737-700s that will be used on the routes are already fitted with Federal Aviation Administration-mandated overwater safety gear, notably life rafts. In preparation for further expansion of Southwest’s over-ocean forays company spokeswoman Melanie Jones says the safety gear is being installed on “a number of Southwest aircraft as well.”

Southwest is the world’s largest operator of Boeing 737s.

Southwest calls the July 1 moves “The first phase of the company’s international conversion plans.” In addition to the new Soutwest runs, AirTran will continue operating flights between Atlanta and Nassau as well between Chicago Midway and Montego Bay. For the time being AirTran will continue to provide the merged airline’s lift to Cancun, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Punta Cana. By the end of this year Southwest plans to launch flights to the remaining quartet of international destinations on its 96-airport route map that – between Southwest and AirTran – now encompasses a half-dozen countries.

To put things in perspective, when Southwest first took-off back in 1971 the then purely intra-state carrier connected a mere trio of airports in Texas: Dallas Love Field. Houston Hobby and San Antonio International.

From personal observation by this Dallas native (I used to ride my bicycle to Love Field to watch the planes) few gave what they considered an upstart airline much of a chance to make it.

The rest is history. Southwest went on to exert a gravitational pull that fundamentally changed the way Americans and the rest of the world flies.

The “Southwest model” of one aircraft type and basic service is the basis of every low cost airline in the world. Low cost airlines have brought travel to billions who could never afford to take to the skies.