Southwest pushes DOT for competition on Houston-Mexico routes

Washington DC
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Southwest Airlines is pushing the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to guarantee competitive access on certain routes between Houston and Mexico, as it prepares for the launch of international service from the city in 2015.

The Dallas-based carrier asks the regulator to require that United Airlines and its affiliates will “rescind” one of its three designations on the Houston-Puerto Vallarta and Houston-Los Cabos routes if it – or another carrier – seeks operate in the markets at a later date, according to a regulatory filing on 24 June.

“Southwest believes that the governing principle should be that no single US carrier is permitted to occupy or control more than one designation in US-Mexico city-pair markets when doing so would block the entry of another US carrier on that route,” says Southwest. To do otherwise would be “anti-competitive”, it adds.

Chicago-based United and SkyWest Airlines filed a joint application for the regional carrier to operate flights on the Houston-Puerto Vallarta and Houston-Los Cabos routes for the mainline carrier during periods of low demand earlier in June. United and ExpressJet operating as United Express already hold two of three available authorities for the markets.

Air service between the USA and Mexico is limited. Each country can designate up to two carriers per city pair except to certain leisure destinations, including Cancun, Guadalajara and San Jose del Cabo, in Mexico where they can appoint three airlines, according to a bilateral treaty that was ratified in 2005.

The DOT considers Houston one market despite the fact that United flies from Houston Intercontinental airport and Southwest from Houston Hobby airport.

Southwest is “likely” to seek authority for the two routes after a new international arrivals facility opens at Houston Hobby in fourth quarter of 2015, it says in the filing.

The airline is investing more than $150 million in the project at Hobby. It plans to fly to the Caribbean, near Latin America and Mexico from the airport.

Southwest will take over service from Los Cabos to both Denver and Orange County from its AirTran Airways on 10 August.