Today, three flights will depart from U.S. cities for the Bahamas, Aruba, and Jamaica, marking the beginning of Southwest Airlines' huge new venture into international travel. During the next few months, Southwest will roll out nine Central American and Caribbean destinations, and the company has already identified another 50 possible new arrival cities, mostly outside of North America.
The coming months are more of a toe-dip than a full-on cannonball into international waters. The mostly Caribbean destinations are "like going across the pond," Michael Boyd, president of aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International, told the Baltimore Sun. But travel bloggers and major publications alike seem to think that further expansion to Europe and beyond is inevitable.
That's probably good news for anyone frustrated with steep airline prices (so, everyone). There's a phenomenon called the "Southwest Effect," coined by the U.S. Department of Transportation, amounting to the idea that when Southwest brings its planes and lower prices to a new city, other airlines start sweating. What often follows is lower fares from other companies to keep up with the new competition. It seems clear that Southwest wants to maintain its usual lower-price strategy outside of the United States. "Most of these routes are overfared," Southwest's executive vice president Bob Jordan told reporters.
The jury's still out on where Southwest's planes will end up and whether international airline prices will drop accordingly, but it's likely only a matter of time before you're elbowing your way to the best seat on a flight to Paris.