MIAMI – Today, Houstonians are getting their first look at where Southwest plans to fly to from its new international terminal at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport.
The carrier filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation to serve six international cities in Latin America from Houston Hobby Airport. It hopes to receive approval from the government to fly from Houston to four destinations in Mexico–Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos– San Jose, Costa Rica, and Belize City, Belize (Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport). The airline hopes to launch these new flights when the new facilities open in Fall 2015.
Currently, the airline is in the middle of completing a five-gate international concourse and a Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility at Hobby. Additionally, it is also developing a new parking facility, central utility plant, and making roadway improvements around the airport. In total, the project is estimated at $156 million.
Southwest and the City of Houston teamed up to complete this project about two years ago, and once its complete, the city and the airline estimate that it will add 10,000 jobs to the region and provide a $1.6 billion impact annually to the local economy. Plus, it’s also estimated that the new facility will bring an additional 1.6 million air travelers each year.
“We’re building our first-ever international terminal project to give Houstonians, visitors to Houston, and our connecting Customers exceptional value and legendary Customer Service in international markets for which there is great demand,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines Chairman, President, and CEO.
“Service to Mexico will be the cornerstone of our international operation at Hobby and the four cities we are announcing today provide exciting travel and business options for consumers. Adding Belize to the Southwest network and growing our Costa Rica service continues our expansion to international destinations where our People and consumer-friendly policies can deliver as no other airline can.”
On March 7, Southwest will launch its first international flights out of Houston to Aruba with Saturday only service. Even though the new FIS facility and new international concourse are not due to be completed for another year, CBP Pre-clearance procedures help make international service out of Houston Hobby possible.
There is a small wrinkle in starting these new routes. Currently, the government only allows two designated U.S. carriers to fly between Houston and Mexico City and three designated U.S. carriers between Houston and San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos. Currently, United and its regional affiliate–Expressjet–are the only two carriers that are allowed to fly to Mexico City from Houston making this route a United monopoly.
As far as the flights to Cabo are concerned, United, Skywest (United’s regional affiliate), and Spirit are the only three carriers allowed to fly these routes. So, the question remains when and/or if Southwest will be able to start these routes with all of the designated carrier spots being taken. It may come down to United determining if it will go all mainline or regional on these routes.
Luckily, an Open Skies Agreement will start January 1, 2016 which would allow multiple U.S. operators to operate flights between these cities as well as other benefits.
Currently, Southwest has taken over all of AirTran’s former international operations, and the carrier has big expansion plans. Subject to government approvals, Southwest service to San Jose, Costa Rica (from Baltimore/Washington), begins in March 2015; service to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (from Orange County/Santa Ana), begins in June 2015; and service to Belize City begins in October 2015 (from Houston (Hobby)). As of now, it currently flies several international flights everyday including to cities in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico.