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Wed, Jun 20, 2007

Southwest Explores International Service Options

Are We Now Free To Move Around The World?

Southwest Airlines has talked about offering international flights for awhile now. Thanks to a code sharing agreement with ATA Airlines, it's about to become a reality. Airline CEO Gary Kelly told a business group in Baltimore Monday the carrier is planning to sell seats on ATA Airlines flights from the East Coast to the Caribbean by 2009 and then later to Europe.

"We have a lot of work do to, but [international service] is something we're devoted to," Kelly told members of the BWI Business Partnership at its annual meeting in Linthicum. "BWI will prove to be a great launch pad for us."

The two carriers already operate a code-sharing partnership in which each can sell seats for connecting flights on the other carrier. This has allowed Southwest to begin service to destinations such as Hawaii using ATA aircraft, according to the Associated Press.

Kelly told the BWI group that once work is completed on modernizing its computer systems Southwest will offer service from BWI to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean by 2009 and to Europe soon after.

"In our 36-year history, we've focused on domestic flights, and we're a profitable airline so it's worked out well for us," Southwest spokesperson Whitney Eichinger said. "I think international flights are an option for additional revenue that all airlines are looking for right now."

Southwest chose BWI because it is the carrier's fourth-busiest operation, and is close to the East Coast, Eichinger said.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said the airport would be a "great launch pad as Southwest continues to evolve. BWI is the airline's largest East Coast gateway, so it would be a good fit."

According to Southwest spokesperson Beth Harbin, Kelly has often spoken about wanting to add international service, but hasn't been real specific about just how he intended to go about it.

Currently Southwest offers connecting service to ATA at several airports that offer international flights, including Chicago Midway, Las Vegas and Phoenix, Harbin said.

BMI opened a new international terminal in 1997, but it has been a struggle to attract and keep international carriers, according to the AP, in its competition with Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia International airport.

According to the Baltimore Business Journal, after his speech to a crowd of about 250, Kelly celebrated the carrier's 36th birthday by springing a surprise gift of a free round-trip flight to all those in attendance.

FMI: www.southwest.com, www.bwiairport.com

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