Southwest Airlines Co said on Monday it will start flights to Aruba, the Bahamas and Jamaica in July, its first flights outside the continental United States under the Southwest brand.
The U.S. carrier currently offers flights to Mexico and the Caribbean through AirTran, which it acquired in 2011. Southwest said a new reservations system that can handle international bookings was up and running.
Starting July 1, Southwest will have nonstop flights between Atlanta and Aruba and Montego Bay, Jamaica; between Baltimore/Washington and Aruba, Nassau and Montego Bay; and between Orlando and Aruba and Montego Bay.
By year's end, all current AirTran international flights will be converted to Southwest, Chief Executive Gary Kelly told a media conference that was broadcast over the Internet.
International flying is a growth opportunity for Southwest, which has curbed flights to unprofitable markets and is retiring older aircraft to reduce maintenance costs.
The company said yields, a measure of the average fare, on international routes were about 40 percent higher than those on domestic flights.
Kelly added that Southwest would not likely add new international cities this year beyond the areas served by AirTran. He said Southwest was not currently planning to add bigger aircraft. It currently operates Boeing 737s.
Robert Jordan, chief commercial officer, said Southwest was looking at a "pretty robust number of new cities" it could fly to over the next few years. Southwest is spending more than $100 million at Houston's William Hobby Airport to install gates and a customs facility as it looks to add flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America in 2015.
"We're going to look at routes that our customers desire, look at routes that are over-fared and there are plenty of over-fared routes both north and south," Jordan said.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta. Editing by Andre Grenon)