DALLAS – Southwest Airlines Co. is expanding beyond the continental United States with flights to the Caribbean beginning July 1.
The airline began selling tickets on Monday for flights to Aruba, the Bahamas and Jamaica from Atlanta, Baltimore and Orlando. Those routes are currently flown by AirTran Airways, which Southwest bought in 2011.
Southwest carries more passengers in the United States than any other airline, but among the largest U.S. carriers, it alone doesn’t fly beyond the nation’s borders. Southwest has been talking about going international for years, but it’s been held back by technological limits to its reservations system, which it has been upgrading.
Later this year, Southwest is expected to take over four AirTran destinations in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. It eventually plans to add international flights from Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and possibly other U.S. cities.
AirTran’s international flights account for less than 1 percent of the parent company’s passenger-carrying capacity, and that won’t change with Monday’s announcement about some flights switching from AirTran planes to Southwest ones.
Dallas-based Southwest plans to phase out the AirTran brand by year end.