Southwest Airlines is looking into the idea of entering codeshare deals with long-haul carriers, and does not rule out the possibility that it could one day operate long-haul routes with its own aircraft.
Speaking exclusively to ATI sister publication Airline Business today, Southwest senior director of planning and distribution Richard Sweet said the carrier is starting to hold talks with potential long-haul partners, with a view to forging codeshare agreements similar to those it recently signed with Canada's WestJet and Mexico's Volaris.
Under the WestJet and Volaris deals, all transborder flying will initially be carried out by the Canadian and Mexican carriers, allowing Southwest to "get a toe in" the international marketplace "in a low risk way", says Sweet, adding "this doesn't preclude us from doing the flying ourselves in the future".
This is a pattern which could eventually be repeated on flights outside of the Americas. However, Sweet says that from a technological and operational standpoint, "getting out of this hemisphere" will be a lot more challenging.
"This would be phase two of the work we'd have to do, to codeshare on longer flights east and west," he says, explaining that any deal with a long-haul carrier is probably at least 18 months to two years down the road.
But he adds: "Flying with a codeshare partner long-haul is certainly something we're interested in doing in the long-term."
Sweet says Southwest is willing to talk with any would-be partner. He adds: "As a feeder to a long-haul carrier we provide a strong business and leisure mix. We could match up with any carrier, although the closer to [our business model] the better."
Asked whether this could be a precursor to Southwest one day branching into the long-haul market with its own aircraft, Sweet responds: "[This would represent] another big move out of our present model and it would involve a different aircraft type, but I'm not saying we wouldn't do it.
"Some day we could [see a long-haul Southwest Airlines] but it's not on our timeline now. Right now we're working on Canada and Mexico."