Southwest Airlines said on Monday it will launch flights to Aruba, Bahamas and Jamaica. It's the first time the air carrier has flown outside the 48 contiguous states under the Southwest name.
The non-stop flights to Aruba and Montego Bay, Jamaica will be out of airports in Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington and Orlando, starting on July 1. Only the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will offer flights to Nassau in the Bahamas under the Southwest name.
Southwest said the new flights will let it reach new customers and territory.
Bob Jordan, chief commercial officer for Southwest Airlines, said at a press event that Aruba, Bahamas and Jamaica were chosen as the first cities "less because of the commercial aspects of those cities and routes and more because we can control the passengers and bookings coming in."
Two of the three destinations were already offered by AirTran, an airline that Southwest acquired in a $1.4 billion deal in 2011.
In addition to Nassau and Montego Bay, AirTran also has flights to Cancun, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Southwest said by the end of 2014, it will also offer flights to these destinations under its network.
"It's not earth-shaking, it's evolutionary," said Michael Boyd, president of aviation consulting firm BoydGroup International. He said expanding to the Caribbean makes sense since AirTran is already there. He said that market is a lucrative one for airlines, with a lot of vacation travelers.
Boyd said he doesn't think Southwest will expand beyond the Caribbean or South America because the carrier uses Boeing 737s and 717s in its fleet, which are aircraft used for short-haul flights.