Southwest, ATA connect for wider service

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Southwest Airlines Co. is planning to sell seats on ATA Airlines flights from the East Coast to the Caribbean by 2009 and later to Europe, Southwest’s chief executive told a business group yesterday in Baltimore.

Southwest has been upgrading its computerized reservations system for international service on ATA by 2009 for some time. But Chief Executive Gary Kelly’s comments yesterday appeared to be the most detailed look at the airline’s plans for connecting to foreign destinations.

Southwest and ATA already operate a partnership in which each can sell seats for connecting flights on the other carrier, a common airline-industry practice called code-sharing. The agreement has already allowed Southwest to offer service to new U.S. destinations, including Hawaii, on ATA jets.

Mr. Kelly said Southwest will offer service from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean by 2009 and to Europe soon after, once Southwest completes work on modernizing its computer systems. He made the comments at a BWI business group’s annual meeting.

Baltimore is Southwest’s largest operation on the East Coast, with 178 daily departures. BWI opened a new international terminal in 1997, but has struggled to attract and keep international carriers. BWI competes with two other large airports near Washington and with Philadelphia International Airport.

Mr. Kelly has talked often about wanting to add international service, but Dallas-based Southwest hasn’t been very specific about how it would do that, said spokeswoman Beth Harbin.

Southwest offers connecting service to ATA at several airports with international service, including Chicago Midway, Las Vegas and Phoenix, Ms. Harbin said.

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