Southwest Airlines is planning to add routes to several destinations in South and Central America as part of its overseas expansion program.
Southwest currently only operates in the United States, but its subsidiary AirTran, which it acquired in 2011, operates a few flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.
“Service outside the United States will be a first in our 43-year history,” Southwest’s Chief Executive Gary Kelly said during a meeting at at a Wings Club in New York, according to Reuters.
Reuters says the carrier is overhauling its reservations system so that it can process international bookings. The new reservations system will be able to process transactions that involve foreign currency conversions, one of the major hurdles standing in the way of the carrier gearing up to go overseas.
Southwest’s international operation will be centered at Houston’s Hobby Airport, where the airline is investing more than $100 million to upgrade the systems and set up new gates and a customs facility.
Over the past few years, American, US Airways, Delta, and even low-cost carriers, including JetBlue and Spirit, have introduced non-stop flights to major cities in Latin America. More than 70% of passengers flying on these routes are the customers of U.S. carriers.
But a majority of flights heading to Latin America begin their journey from Miami, Florida, so Southwest’s decision to add more routes to Latin American countries is a good news for southwest states in the US.