Saturday, February 21, 2015

Southwest Airlines wants to add more international flights at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (KBWI), Maryland

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Friday, Feb. 20, 2015 that BWI is a focal point as the carrier expands its international service.

Southwest Airlines Co. wants to schedule more international flights out of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, but don't expect to see the carrier adding tickets to Europe or Asia anytime soon.

BWI is the top international gateway for Dallas-based Southwest, airline CEO Gary Kelly said Friday at a BWI Business Partnership breakfast. The Baltimore-area airport will continue to be a focus as Southwest seeks to further spread its international wings. The airline only started flights to locations outside of the United States last year.

Southwest is not looking at adding flights to far-away destinations such as Europe or Asia in the near future, however. Those could come down the road, but the carrier has its sights set on scheduling flights to new North American locations for the time being.

"One of these days I'm sure we'll think about that," he said. "We've got all kinds of opportunities right here in an area we know."

The airline has 50 new destinations in mind, Kelly said. It's particularly interested in flights to Latin America, which has it building out international terminals in southern airports like Houston and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

BWI has a role in the airline's Latin American expansion, too. Southwest tabbed the airport for flights to San Jose, Costa Rica, which are slated to start in March. They'll be the first international service to a new destination that the airline launches since closing on its acquisition of AirTran in 2011.

When Southwest started its international flights in 2014, it began flying to cities AirTran had served. Southwest ended AirTran flights in December, completing its integration of the carrier.
Southwest is a critical airline for BWI. It has about 70 percent market share at the airport.

Looking into the future, Kelly wouldn't rule out Southwest flying to new locations including Canada or even Cuba.

"Canada is definitely in our idea stage," he said. "It's definitely within our capabilities, and certainly from BWI it would be, I think, a very logical opportunity for us to think carefully about."

International flights represent only about 1 percent of Southwest's capacity, Kelly said. Adding more is attractive to the airline because international flights are more lucrative than domestic flights.

The domestic short-haul market is flat over the last 15 years as rising fares have hurt traffic, Kelly said. International markets — longer flights — haven't seen the same erosion.

As a result, Southwest has changed its strategy since first coming to BWI in 1993.

"The long-haul markets have grown," Kelly said. "So we have pivoted from our early days in the 1990s here from being just a short-haul carrier to being much better prepared to serve long-haul routes."

Story and photos:

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says BWI is a focal point as the carrier expands its international service.

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