A Trip Report: Southwest Airlines, International
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When Southwest bought out AirTran, they inherited the international destinations that AirTran had already been flying – mostly to the Caribbean. Southwest used those destinations as a starting off point to expand internationally and add more destinations in Central America and the Caribbean. They also upgraded their home base in Houston – Hobby Airport – to add international flights from that airport. I have flown Southwest many times domestically, but this was my first time trying their international service so I was curious what was different and was stayed the same.
My flight was from New Orleans to Mexico City via Houston, with the same route on the return. As they are just starting out with their international service, they do not have as many flight options to choose from – with some cities have longer transit times than others. As with their domestic service, each ticket on Southwest includes 2 free bags, 2 free carryons, no change fees, and credits if the flight price goes lower. Some differences between the domestic and international service is that international service can only be booked on a desktop, and not on a mobile or other device, and changes can only be made by calling a representative. Another difference is that you cannot check-in to your flight via a mobile device, only from a desktop or the airport kiosk. A final difference is that Southwest does not allow standby service on international flights – if you clear customs and there is an earlier domestic flight available, you have to pay a large sum to get on an earlier flight.
On board, there is no difference between a domestic and international service. At check-in, you are assigned a group letter and a number and you board accordingly. Once on board you can choose any open seat. While this concept allows you to choose your seat, it is a pain to stand in line and wait and then get on board and wait again as passengers play musical chairs and assess the best seat. The flight from New Orleans to Houston was 1hr while Houston to Mexico was 1hr 40 minutes. The plane on each sector was an older Boeing 737-700. Southwest usually operates these planes on their short-haul sector, as the seat comfort is low and the seat pitch is average. The seats are fine for the short-haul but after a while they can become very uncomfortable. Once we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew came by to take your drink order and hand out pretzels/peanuts. Southwest provides complimentary drinks and you can access TV through your personal device using Southwest wifi. Each flight was relatively uneventful and there was no indication or difference between a domestic and international flight.
Southwest is in its infancy in terms of international travel, and you can feel it in terms of on the ground and in the air. There is room for improvement, but the free bags and consistent service are something you can count on Southwest for.