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WestJet Deal Gives Southwest Door To International Markets

July 9, 2008

By Ted Jackovics, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Jul. 9–TAMPA — TAMPA — Southwest Airlines’ first partnership with an international carrier could mean lower fares and easier bookings for travel between Tampa and Canada.

The agreement announced Tuesday would allow Southwest and Canadian carrier WestJet to share booking information and eliminate potential currency-exchange complications for United States or Canadian-bound passengers.

WestJet serves Toronto from Tampa International Airport, in addition to seasonal service that in the past included Ottawa; Montreal; Hamilton, Ontario; and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Calgary, Alberta-based airline serves 49 North American destinations.

Southwest is Tampa International’s busiest carrier, with 85 daily departures serving more than two dozen nonstop destinations.

Industry observers say the partnership could be the beginning of multiple Southwest entries into international markets.

“What I see is that this is just Southwest’s first step with international carriers, which could be huge for us and eventually involve Latin American, Caribbean and European markets,” TIA director Louis Miller said.

The airlines have not announced routes or fares yet, and the U.S. and Canadian governments must sign off on the arrangement, which is not expected to take effect until late 2009.

The code-share agreement would allow each carrier to check customers and baggage to a final destination and sell each other’s flights, WestJet said in a news release. It also allows them to integrate each carrier’s frequent-flyer program. Both airlines are expected to gain new customers with the arrangement.

Southwest and WestJet fly Boeing 737 aircraft, and both are among the few remaining North American carriers refusing to charge for checked baggage and other a la carte services to compensate for soaring fuel prices.

Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at tjackovics@tampatrib.com or (813) 259-7817.

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