With its new $156 million international terminal under construction at Hobby Airport, Southwest Airlines has announced ambitious plans to expand service to Belize and four Mexico destinations.
The airline filled applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation Thursday requesting approval for flights between Hobby and Belize City, Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo. The airline also sought permission to fly to San Jose, Costa Rica, from Houston.
The international terminal is expected to open late next year.
The plan puts Southwest in direct competition with United Airlines, which currently flies to each of these international cities. USA Today reports that the current aviation agreement limits the number of carries that can fly between the U.S. and Mexico. Those restrictions are scheduled to be phased out beginning in 2016.
The newspaper explains it this way:
Under the existing U.S.-Mexico agreement, most routes between the nations are restricted to two U.S. airlines. Some allow three, and there are various exceptions. Complicating the agreement — at least as far as Houston is concerned — is that the pact designates Houston as a single market, meaning service from both Hobby and Bush Intercontinental cumulatively count toward the airline cap on routes to Mexico.
Currently, less than the maximum-number of airlines are flying on the Houston-Cancun and Houston-Puerto Vallarta routes, likely clearing the way for Southwest there. But unless the DOT and its Mexican counterpart agree to waive the nations' restrictions early, Southwest will have to win out against at least one airline from a set of rivals that includes of United, Spirit and two of United's regional United Express affiliates."
"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," Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement. "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."
Southwest has previously announced plans for Saturday-only Houston-Aruba service, set to begin March 7, 2015.