Southwest Airlines suspends international flying Sunday, cuts 1,000 flights from schedule
Southwest Airlines will end all international flying on Sunday as the carrier slashes a quarter of its schedule, its latest reduction in light of the widening coronavirus crisis.
The Dallas-based carrier's decision to end its flights to the Caribbean and Mexico is part of a larger cull of 1,000 flights — 25% of its entire operation — from its schedule. The cuts begin March 22, Southwest said Friday. They will remain in place at least into April, when the carrier will implement a previously planned 20% capacity reduction.
"During this unprecedented time, we will continually assess the real-time, market demand for Southwest's service with the goal of cancelling flights that have alternate flights or route options and that affect the fewest number of customers," Southwest said.
Southwest's decision to end international flying follows the announcement that the U.S. will close its border with Mexico to all but cargo and essential travel. Mexico is the largest single foreign market in the airline's system, representing more than 44% of its international capacity in March, according to Cirium schedules.
Other U.S. airlines have ended many long-haul routes but largely kept international service to nearby destinations, including Mexico and Canada. However, the new border restrictions may see prompt them to cancel flights to these countries as well as travelers on the routes face new restrictions.
Southwest operates roughly 46 international flights on most days to Aruba, the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and Turks and Caicos, Cirium schedules show. Southwest operates 81 flights international flights on Saturdays.
Southwest plans to resume international flying, albeit under a reduced schedule, on May 4.
U.S. carriers, including Southwest, represented by industry organization Airlines for America (A4A) have asked the U.S. government for at least $50 billion in aid to bridge them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many agree that the industry needs support to weather the crisis, the request has raised questions about how airlines have used funds in the past. Shareholder buybacks and other investor-friendly measures have prompted calls for limits on how they can use any government support in order to protect jobs.
Southwest is allowing passengers who do not want to travel or are impacted by its numerous schedule reductions to rebook with no change in fare or cancel outright. The airline has also extended the validity of most travel vouchers to 2021.