Southwest has gotten very aggressive by offering new routes, and sales, and we are seeing Southwest add international flights to and from cities they have never offered before.
These flights are being added on AirTran because Southwest’s reservation system is not currently set up to handle the seat assignments required by the government on international flights.
In two years when Southwest’s new booking system should be up and running, we could see the airline offer very aggressive flights to the Caribbean Central America, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska and maybe even the northern part of South America.
The airline is working on an agreement to allow international flights from Houston Hobby Airport. The plan is to build five gates in an international terminal and if approved, the terminal likely won’t be ready until 2015.
This international terminal sounds like a great option to me because of the small size of the terminal. Travelers will be close to customs and getting through should be quicker than at many other airports.
Customs can be a nightmare at some airports because you have to walk and walk and walk then stand in line to get through customs. Once when I was in Miami they must have parked us 42 gates away from customs and that was not a quick visit to and through customs and I had to walk another 42 gates to get to my connecting flight back home. I should have packed a lunch.
Houston is only a 40 minute flight from Dallas and Southwest currently offers over 130 flights from Houston. The airport should make a nice connecting point for those of us in Dallas/Fort Worth for international flights starting sometime in 2015 when we could see heavy expansion on short-haul international flights from Houston to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.
In 2014 when the Wright Amendment expires, we will be able to fly on Southwest connecting through the AirTran-Southwest Atlanta hub to San Juan, Montego Bay, Aruba and the Dominican Republic. The situation in Houston reminds me a lot of what we have going on in Dallas with DFW and Love Field. United, and Continental before it, doesn’t want the competition from Southwest out of Hobby and has been vocal about its opposition to expanding Hobby.
In Dallas we still have the restrictions of the Wright Amendment that keeps airlines from flying nonstop out of Love Field, except within Texas, to neighboring states and a few other locales. We’ll have to wait until October 2014 to see the restrictions go away and then Southwest will be able to fly nonstop on domestic routes, but international flights will not be allowed even to short-haul destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean. I do think that we will see a number of direct flights, with one stop but no change of planes, from Dallas to international destinations.
Even though Southwest doesn’t yet have an agreement with its employee unions to fly long-haul flights over water or to international destinations, the carrier is gearing up for that by getting jets that can fly further.
If the employee agreement is approved, Southwest will be leasing its current fleet of 117-seat 717 planes to Delta and will replace those planes with 143-seat 737-700 or 175-seat 737-800s. This is good news for travelers because for each plane that is replaced, Southwest will have additional seats so the capacity will increase by thousands of seats.
The 737-800 planes can fly 3,115 nautical miles, so we will likely see some new long-haul destinations offered by Southwest because these jets could go to Hawaii, Alaska and even the northern part of South America.
Under the AirTran name, Southwest has added service to Cancun from Denver, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta and San Antonio and to Mexico City from Orange County and San Antonio. Up until May of this year, AirTran had never offered service to Orange County or San Antonio.
Southwest is also offering new domestic flights and just got permission to fly between Austin and Washington (DC). Once Southwest is completely merged with AirTran, the carrier could fly to close to 100 destinations from Dallas.
While we probably won’t see a lot of domestic growth, I think we’ll see growth to international markets. We will likely see added connecting flights to and from to Hawaii, Alaska and Mexico primarily from the West Coast, from Houston to Mexico and the Caribbean and from Atlanta to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America.
With all of the mergers we’ve had in recent years and with the rumor of an American/US Airways merger, we definitely want to see a low cost carrier like Southwest competing on routes. Low cost carriers help to keep fares down to many destinations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, look for fares on Tuesday afternoon. Eighty percent of sales start on a Tuesday, and most end two days later on Thursday. Usually the cheapest fares are on Tuesday and Wednesday flights. This is not always the case, so you should price the days you want to fly and then compare fares with Tuesday and Wednesday flights. Friday and Sunday are often the worst days to fly and sometimes Saturday returns can be high too.
While fares can vary considerably depending on the day of the week you travel and your destination, it is not always the case. We have been seeing fares from Virgin America that are similar in price, no matter what day of the week you travel, especially to Los Angeles and San Francisco. As a reminder, if you are planning to travel after August 21, look for Southwest’s anniversary sale. Southwest will have a big party to celebrate its 41st anniversary and we expect to see the sale launched sometime around June 19. We expect the travel period to start around August 21 and cover September and October travel and possibly the first couple of weeks of November. These fares could drop by 30-50 percent on some routes, so you may want to hit the computer daily to check for fares.
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