Southwest Airlines in January lost its effort to get United Airlines or SkyWest Airlines kicked off routes from Houston to Mexico City and Houston to Cabo San Lucas. By the U.S.-Mexico bilateral treaty, the number of U.S. airlines on those routes is limited. And all the airline authorities had been handed out.
Southwest had argued that United Airlines and SkyWest Airlines were operating flights only for the benefit of one airline, United, and asked the DOT to replace one of them with Southwest. The U.S. Department of Transportation turned down Southwest’s request.
But on Tuesday, the DOT gave Southwest the necessary authority to fly from Houston to Mexico City and Cabo San Lucas after Mexican authorities indicated they would look favorably on Southwest’s request.
In doing so, they relied on the ability of both countries to approve “extrabilateral” exemptions for more airlines than the aviation treaty allows.
“In light of the circumstances of this case, the U.S. Government asked the Mexican Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil (DGAC) whether it would favorably consider an application for extrabilateral authority in the subject markets,” the DOT said in its Tuesday March 10 decision.
“In doing so, the Department noted that the United States has positively considered requests from the DGAC to grant certain extrabilateral authority to Mexican carriers. The DGAC advised the Department that it will, on the basis of reciprocity, favorably consider an application from Southwest for Houston-Mexico City and Houston-San Jose del Cabo services,” the agency said.
Based on that, the DOT said in Tuesday’s order, “we find that the public interest warrants our approval of Southwest’s application, and that we can proceed to such approval without needing to withdraw or otherwise place in issue the designations or authorities of any of the currently authorized U.S. carriers in these city-pair markets.”
Southwest plans to launch service from Houston to a number of non-U.S. cities in October after a five-gate international facility is finished at Hobby Airport. Last Saturday, it launched one flight a week to Aruba – service possible because travelers on the Aruba-Houston flights can go through a Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance center at the Aruba airport.
Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said the airline was pleased with the decision.
“We hang our hat on the peg of public interest supporting what we said in our application, which is that Southwest Airlines would bring low-fare pressure and Southwest value in these international markets,” Hawkins said.
“I think it has enormous consequences not just for our Houston customers but for anyone we fly on those routes through our new facilities in Houston beginning in October,” he said.
In a statement, United said it “applauds” the DOT decision.
“As we suggested to DOT in our filings, this action will provide the greatest benefit for consumers and allow existing services in these markets to remain unchanged,” United said.
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