Southwest Airlines AFP PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES / Karen BLEIER
Charisse Jones, USATODAY
Southwest, which grew to carry more domestic passengers than any U.S. airline, began selling tickets for international flights on Monday, the start of a significant shift for the low-cost domestic carrier.
Starting July 1, travelers will for the first time be able to fly Southwest overseas, to Aruba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.
The announcement, complete with steel drums playing at a news conference in Dallas, was hailed as historic by Southwest officials who noted that the 43-year-old carrier was created to focus on domestic service.
"To make that shift in strategy has taken a huge effort,'' said Gary Kelly, Southwest's president and CEO. But, he added, as a leading domestic carrier, it was time "that we think about stepping out.''
The international service will also mark a significant milestone in Southwest's merger with one-time rival, AirTran, as Southwest integrates that carrier's overseas routes.
Come July, AirTran will continue flying internationally, operating flights between Chicago and Montego Bay, Jamaica for instance, but by the end of the year all international service by AirTran will shift over to Southwest.