DALLAS –– With calypso music gently echoing through its Love Field headquarters, short-hop specialist Southwest Airlines signaled Monday that it’s finally ready to do some international island hopping.
CEO Gary Kelly announced “Beginning on July 1st bags will fly free to Aruba, the Bahamas and Jamaica as Southwest spreads its wings south of the border and brings our value and legendary customer service on board Southwest’s 'LUV' jets”.
These first forays into the tropics outside the country were inevitable. Southwest already manages service beyond U.S. borders on Airtran, which it bought in 2011. By the end of this year, Airtran’s flights to the Caribbean and to several cities in Mexico will also be flown by Southwest airplanes as the two airlines finish becoming one.
“We have learned from mistakes other airlines made with mergers and integration, so the way we’re approaching our integration is very different,” Kelly said. “We are not jamming two companies together. We are retiring one airplane by airplane and adding new service on Southwest Airlines."
The international reach is just one of the big developments for Southwest this year.
The Wright Amendment, which has long restricted where Southwest can fly non-stop, will expire this fall and the carrier will truly be free to move about the country. Kelly can hardly contain his enthusiasm.
“I don’t think I’ll jump on a chair like a famous actor did with Oprah, but I’m very excited,” he said.
But the promise of big new things in 2014 is made possible by what happened in 2013--when Southwest posted a company record $805 million profit.
“The profits we earned in 2013 are important because all these things we are doing are very significant investments,” he added.
At this point, none of the new destinations are open to people traveling from Dallas, but Southwest promises to connect Dallas customers into the international travel system in the months to come. Beyond that, Southwest executives promise more destinations in 2015 and the years after that, with a clear focus on extending service into the northern part of South America.
Shares of Southwest slipped 13 cents to $20.70 in afternoon trading. Most other airline stocks were also lower on a rise in oil prices.