Last updated: 12:30 PM ET, Wed June 08 2016

The Story Behind Southwest’s Mexico Moves

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | June 08, 2016

The Story Behind Southwest’s Mexico Moves

Photo by Paul Thompson

Last week, Southwest applied to fly from LAX to Cancun and San Jose del Cabo twice a day, along with Puerto Vallarta once daily, beginning Nov. 6 of this year. Having flights from these Mexican destinations into LAX would create a huge amount of connection opportunities with the rest of the Southwest network.

When Southwest Airlines first began flying 45 years ago this month, its network consisted of just three cities and three airplanes. Its founders didn’t dream of flying outside of Texas at that time, let alone other countries. Places like Mexico were so far out of the realm of possibility, that the airline didn’t even establish itself in a way that would allow that to happen.

READ MORE: Alaska Airlines Plans to Challenge Southwest's Dominance in California

In the early 1970s, airlines were still regulated — meaning that the government controlled which airlines flew where, and how much they could charge for it. Southwest originally established itself as an intrastate carrier, meaning its planes could only make flights within Texas. Its first three cities were Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

How did Southwest begin its international flights? By buying AirTran Airways in 2010, and along with it a handful of destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Slowly but surely, Southwest transitioned service at those destinations from AirTran to Southwest’s own crews and planes. At first, Southwest’s own reservation system wasn’t capable of international bookings, but as the companies merged, Southwest gained that expertise from AirTran’s staff, and added that piece of AirTran’s system to their own in-house built reservation system.

From AirTran, Southwest inherited the destinations of Aruba, Cancun, Mexico City, Montego Bay, Nassau, Punta Cana, and San Jose Del Cabo. Since then, Southwest added four more international cities: Puerto Vallatra, Belize City, and Liberia & San Jose Costa Rica.

In California, Santa Ana (Orange County) is currently the only city from which Southwest flies internationally. After Mexican lawmakers ratified a new agreement to allow more U.S. flights in early May, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly hinted that his airline might want to take advantage of that possibility — made real by Southwest’s recent application submission.

In addition to Santa Ana (and presumably Los Angeles), Southwest also offers Mexican and Caribbean flights from the following U.S. cities: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Milwaukee, Orlando, San Antonio, and Tampa.

READ MORE: Check Out Southwest's New Shark Week Plane

Now 45 years after its first flight, Southwest serves 98 cities with over 700 planes with no plans to slow down, while looking to expand its reach globally. CEO Gary Kelly has affirmed that the airline plans to add flights to Canada and even South America in the months and years to come.

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