Southwest Airlines is planning to offer international service out of Houston’s Hobby Airport with the city council’s adoption of a $100 million plan to expand the airport and add international flights.
Southwest, the nation’s fourth-largest airline by passenger traffic, plans to begin the service in 2015.
The airline already runs more than 130 daily flights from Hobby, making it Southwest’s sixth-busiest airport. It plans to add about 20 more.
Although Southwest doesn’t fly beyond U.S. borders, its AirTran Airways subsidiary does, and Dallas-based Southwest plans to fold AirTran into the Southwest brand over the next several years.
AirTran, which serves Wichita, now flies to Mexico and the Caribbean from cities including Atlanta, Baltimore and Los Angeles.
Southwest plans to build five new gates and a customs facility at Hobby, all of which will be owned by the city.
United Continental Holdings Inc., the world’s largest airline company, opposed the plan to add international flights at Hobby. United has a major hub at Houston’s larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is farther away from downtown. United says splitting the city’s international air service could cost jobs and growth at Bush Airport.
Until Continental Airlines combined with United in 2010 to form United Continental Holdings Inc., it was based in Houston and was considered the city’s hometown airline.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has said the Hobby expansion will boost travel to and through Houston. Other airlines left Hobby after Bush airport opened 20 miles north of downtown in 1969, but Southwest pushed the city to reopen Hobby in 1971.
Southwest also has long fought to stay at Dallas Love Field while other airlines moved to much larger Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The locations of Hobby and Love Field make them attractive to business travelers in downtown Houston and Dallas and were critical to Southwest’s early growth.