We’ve spent a lot of ink here speculating about what sort of success Southwest Airlines might have with its late entry into the international market from south Florida. With established players American Airlines (from Miami) as well as JetBlue and ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) dominating origin and destination traffic from South Florida to Latin America/Caribbean, it appears Southwest might have to rely heavily on connections as it begins ramping up Fort Lauderdale international service next month with the opening of five new gates and customs facility in Terminal 1 at FLL (other carriers will continue to use Terminal 4 at FLL for customs).
But Southwest seems determined to cut into the lucrative market from southeast Florida to points south by slashing fares and offering the type of frequency on some routes that ULCC Spirit simply won’t. As for the competition with JetBlue, Southwest seems committed to picking its spots both domestically and internationally – given the massive benefits of Southwest’s extensive network (Southwest’s US network is the largest domestic network of any air carrier on the planet) compared to JetBlue’s more niche product. JetBlue seems determined to reach a sort of critical mass in Fort Lauderdale in the near future with upwards of about 150 daily flights connecting points far and wide.
But as FLL’s airport construction and expansion as well as its terminal space and gate crunch continues, JetBlue can’t ramp up as quickly as it might like and its hub has grown gradually through the course of the last several years. This gives Southwest a potential opening though very few heavily traveled international routes from Fort Lauderdale are not already served by JetBlue and/or Spirit. But domestic feed is another matter entirely as often airlines time flights to/from FLL to US’ destinations based on origin and destination traffic rather than ease of connections.
For the November/December Southwest schedule released last week here are the destinations and frequencies being flown internationally from Fort Lauderdale:
Belize City 1 x daily
Cancun 3 x daily (JetBlue and Spirit also fly this route but will have less flights combined weekly than Southwest come November)
Grand Cayman 1 x daily
Havana 2 x daily (JetBlue also flies this route)
Montego Bay 2 x daily (JetBlue, Spirit and Caribbean Airlines also fly this route)
Nassau 1 x daily# (JetBlue, Bahamasair and Sky Bahamas also fly this route)
Providenciales (JetBlue flues this route, Southwest has not loaded flights into reservation system yet but Nov 5 is the proposed start date)
Punta Cana 1 x daily (JetBlue and Spirit also fly this route)
San Jose, Costa Rica 1 x daily (JetBlue and Spirit also fly this route)
San Juan 3 x daily* (JetBlue and Spirit also fly this route)
Santa Clara 1 x daily (JetBlue also flies this route)
Varadero 2 x daily
# Nassau is a pre-clearance destination so passengers clear US customs in Nassau.
* San Juan is a domestic destination but requires international overflight authority.
A quick glance at this table shows that Southwest’s customs area will be used by only 14 flights daily in November and December (not including the forthcoming Providenciales service) giving the airline a leg up in terms of convenience. At some hours of the day, the strained customs facilities in Terminal 4 serve double-digit flights of passengers entering the US and have to cope with Emirates, Norwegian and British Airways widebody flights from across the Atlantic.