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 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 entering into similar codeshare agreements 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 that "this doesn't preclude us from doing the flying ourselves in the future".

This is a pattern that 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, adding that any deal with a long-haul carrier is "probably at least a year-and-a-half to two years down the road".

Southwest Airlines 
 © Southwest Airlines

"Flying with a codeshare partner long-haul is certainly something we're interested in doing in the long-term," says Sweet. Asked whether an eventual codeshare deal with a long-haul airline could be a precursor to Southwest one day branching into the long-haul market with its own aircraft, Sweet responds that 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."

In terms of long-haul codeshare partners, Sweet says that "at this point we're willing to talk to anybody to find out if there is an opportunity to make a match". 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."

Source: Airline Business