After 43 years of steadily expanding in the continental U.S., Southwest Airlines is going international.
The carrier is launching flights to three destinations in the Caribbean as it begins expansion into uncharted territory, adding international routes. The airline's first flight to the region took off Tuesday morning from Baltimore to Aruba.
"Our opportunity is to grow beyond the 48 states to all of North America, potentially, serving it all with 737s and even having the range to reach the northern part of South America," said Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines.
While Southwest subsidiary AirTran has run flights to the Caribbean for several years, this is the first time expansion has been centered on the Southwest brand.
It comes as several of the carrier's competitors are adding flights to the region.
"They face stiff competition from airlines such as JetBlue, American and Delta, but I think Southwest will bring lower fares and a lot of promotion and a great name and a great reputation," said Henry Harteveldt, an airline consultant with Atmosphere Research Group.
"I am not convinced [Southwest's flying to the Caribbean] will be an out-of-the-ballpark smash."