By Erin Mulvaney
Courtesy of Houston Chronicle
Southwest Airlines set the date and specifics for its first international flight in Texas with a Saturday-only flight between Houston and Aruba to start in March of next year.
The move is earlier than the Dallas-based carrier originally planned to offer its international flights out of Hobby Airport.
The airline added the first international nonstop flight out of Houston when it updated its schedule recently, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said. Southwest had planned to begin offering international routes out of Hobby to destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America beginning in 2016. An international terminal under construction there is slated to be completed by late 2015.
The Aruba route is possible in Houston earlier due to the federal government’s “pre-clearance” locations that allow U.S. border agents who live in foreign locations to process travelers before they arrive in the U.S.
Select international locations, including Aruba, have this special designation. For Southwest, the process means passengers “enter the U.S.” before they get on the plane and, therefore, they can land in a domestic terminal at Hobby.
Southwest began offering international flights from other states this year, after its 2011 merger with AirTran Airways.
The flight, starting March 7, will depart Houston weekly at 10:50 a.m. and arrive in Aruba at 5 p.m. The return flight will leave Aruba at 12:30 p.m. and arrive in Houston at 4:30 p.m. The economy round-trip ticket price at this time for the first service date is $940 for a refundable ticket and $480 for a nonrefundable.
“Aruba performed well for AirTran and has already been a strong offering for our U.S. customers out of our gateway cities in the east,” Hawkins said. “This is a natural connection to make into our growing offering at Hobby Airport.”