The nation's biggest domestic carrier is going international.
Southwest Airlines announced Monday plans to leave U.S. airspace in July with flights to three Caribbean beach cities in time for the summer travel season.
The move by the Dallas-based airline was expected since Southwest acquired AirTran Airways in 2011. AirTran already serves destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Southwest's first flights to Aruba, Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Nassau, Bahamas, will depart from Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington D.C. and Orlando.
By the end of the year, Southwest officials said they planned to serve 96 destinations in six countries, including all the international stops now served by AirTran.
"Southwest Airlines democratized the sky from our first flights more than four decades ago," said Gary Kelly, president and chief executive of the airline. "Today's milestone enables us to reach new territory, new customers, and build upon a four-decade foundation of doing right by the travelers who trust our value and our people."
To fly Southwest planes to international destinations requires additional training and equipment. For example, federal rules require planes that fly long distances over water to equip passenger seats with flotation devices. Many of Southwest's planes that fly domestic routes do not include such devices.
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