On Monday, Southwest Airlines announced their plans to travel outside the United States. According to the Associated Press, the airline will book international flights starting in early July. The expansion includes trips to the Caribbean this summer, which will begin just in time for travelers to hit the white sandy beaches in tropical locations.
Since Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran Airways in 2011, the expansion into international flights has been in the works. Aruba, Bahamas, Jamaica, Montego Bay and Nassau are the first destinations on the list of the newly scheduled daily flights departing from the Dallas-based airline. Customers can book flights now in preparation for their summer vacations.
Sandy beaches aren’t the only destinations for Southwest Airlines, however. They will accommodate everything from European vacations to business trips in China and Japan. The expansion into more overseas flights is expected to continue throughout 2014. The Dominican Republic and Mexico are the next overseas stops on the list, with destinations including Mexico City, Cancun, Los Cabos and Punta Cana. They will eventually add non-stop flights departing from Florida and Houston.
The idea is for Southwest Airlines to become the largest passenger carrier worldwide. First, the airline plans to offer all the international flights that are currently offered by AirTran. Total destinations include 96 locations, spanning six countries.
Once Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran, they began working on taking over the international flights. Southwest then signed a contract with Amadeus IT Group in April 2012. The contract was the first step in bringing today’s announcement to reality and making trips to tropical hot spots a possibility.
The new reservation system that has been put in place allows travelers to book their overseas trips with ease. So far, that has been the main issue with the expansion. The system lacked the technology necessary to make the transition. Southwest Airline’s method of making reservations has been updated, however, and they are able to book international flights.
As Southwest Airlines moves from strictly domestic flights into international flights, the airline needs to update operations to include new technology, comply with international rules and gain approvals for the new flights. They also need to focus on training so employees are aware of the updates and are able to handle long-distance flights.
Southwest Airlines is currently the largest airline to offer domestic flights. More passengers use Southwest than any other airline. Until now, however, they haven’t tested the waters beyond the United States. The 43-year-old company anticipates being able to run the full schedule that AirTran has been responsible for until now. But AirTran will be phased out this year. 2015 is expected to be a huge growth year for Southwest Airlines.
The company has based its solid foundation on over four decades of reliable customer service. They won brownie points with travelers for remaining a low-cost airline and refusing to charge for baggage, even when many other airlines enforce such fees. Southwest Airlines had record sales in 2013, and hopes to increase profits by booking international flights. Their growth strategy for 2014 is to build on their strong record by turning their focus to increasing overseas destinations.
By Tracy Rose
Wall Street Journal