Southwest Airlines has inked a memorandum of understanding with Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet that will pave the way for the two Boeing 737 operators to initiate codeshare flights across both networks by late next year.
The broad agreement is significant on a number of fronts. It will open up international destinations in Canada to Dallas-based low-cost giant Southwest, while greatly improving WestJet’s market access in the USA.
It also shows a continued push at Southwest to change its traditional business model that, with the exception of a previous codeshare with now-defunct ATA Airlines, has seen the US low-cost carrier remain largely independent of such partnerships.
WestJet, which launched operations in 1996, was modelled after Southwest. The two airlines say they intend to introduce a distribution plan this year with a codeshare agreement in place in late 2009. Certain details of the codeshare and elements of the partnering relationship are subject to approvals by both the US and Canadian governments.
"The airlines are not ready to announce routes, schedules, or fares at this point, but the agreement will eventually allow each carrier to check both customers and baggage to a passenger’s final destination," says Southwest in a statement.
In the near-term, Southwest’s web site will become a distribution channel for Calgary-headquartered WestJet’s existing Canadian and transborder flights. Other potential opportunities to consider, they say, include an integration of each carrier’s frequent flier programme, ground handling, marketing and selling to corporate accounts and other areas of mutual gain. A possible extension of the carriers’ cargo products is also being mulled.
"We are quickly moving forward with our plans to enter the international market with WestJet, an airline partner that we hold in high esteem," says Southwest chairman and CEO Gary Kelly. "We have a very talented group of employees who will continue to work diligently over the next year to develop and deliver a superior international codeshare product into the marketplace."
WestJet president and CEO Sean Durfy adds: "This is a defining moment for WestJet. Clearly, we are delivering on our strategic plan with this announcement today. It marks an important step forward for our guests and their ability to fly to more destinations in the United States conveniently and cost effectively.
"When you examine our network in Canada and Southwest’s network in the United States, and the potential to significantly improve both organization’s market access, this is indeed a great day."
Source: Flightglobal.com's sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence