Southwest Plans International Service After Reservations Upgrade
Southwest Airlines chairman Gary Kelly said the carrier hopes to launch international service once it completes an upgrade of its internal reservations system.
City of Newark
The current system, a lower-cost domestic system from Dallas-based Sabre Airline Solutions, is unable to handle reservations functions required for international service, including currency conversion, processing international tariffs and operating in multiple languages.
"All of those things would have to be replaced for us to have international flights," Southwest's Kelly told AOL Travel News at an event in Newark, N.J.. "Newark would be a wonderful launching point to consider international service."
The nation's largest low-cost carrier, Dallas-based Southwest launched new nonstop flights from Newark Liberty International Airport to Chicago Midway and St. Louis earlier this week and will expand service in June to Houston, Phoenix, Baltimore/Washington and Denver.
Southwest's international interest comes at a time when competitor JetBlue Airways, the New York-based discount carrier, has signed several interline agreements with carriers ranging from Virgin Atlantic to Aer Lingus and has a code-share deal with Lufthansa, which owns a minority stake in JetBlue.
Southwest has been in negotiations with the Sabre and rival Amadeus for an upgrade to reservation systems that would allow the carrier to process international tickets, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
"The critical thing for international is being able to store and retrieve various tariffs that in many cases are mileage based or in some cases point to point," said Henry Harteveldt, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, and one of the nation's leading experts on travel technology.
Harteveldt noted that in April 2010, Southwest ended a planned code-share deal with Canadian airline WestJet, in part due to the limitations of its reservation system as well as an alleged deal between WestJet and rival Delta Air Lines. WestJest went onto to enter a code-share agreement with Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines.
Southwest has an existing alliance with Volaris, a low-cost carrier from Mexico, but that partnership is not a formal code share.
Chris Mainz, spokesman for Southwest, said a launch of new international service is as least two years away, as Southwest is working to integrate AirTran Airways, the Atlanta-based low cost carrier that it acquired. Air Tran offers service to the Caribbean and Mexico, however that carrier uses a reservations system from Minneapolis-based Navitaire, a subsidiary of Accenture.
Southwest in December announced plans to upgrade its aircraft in March 2012 with Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which are more fuel efficient and can fly longer hours than the carrier's existing fleet. The airline has been looking at launching service to Hawaii, Bermuda and the Caribbean among other long-haul destinations.
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