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Southwest adds international flavor with Caribbean flights

DALLAS, Texas — To the sound of steel drums playing Caribbean music, Southwest Airlines announced Aruba, Jamaica and the Bahamas as its first-ever international destinations.

The flights, to depart from Atlanta, Baltimore and Orlando, Fla., are part of the airline's integration of AirTran Airways, which was acquired by Southwest in 2011 and currently flies the routes.

"By the end of this year, all of the international flying that is currently taking place on AirTran will be converted over to Southwest," Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said Monday at a news conference at the company's Dallas Love Field headquarters.

But Southwest expects to expand its international connections next year.

Southwest expects a five-gate international terminal to be completed at Houston Hobby Airport by the end of next year. And while Love Field customers will still be prohibited from flying directly to international destinations, Kelly said they'll be able to connect to Mexico and elsewhere abroad through Houston.

Southwest began selling tickets Monday for daily nonstop international flights. Later this year, the company plans to add the Mexican destinations of Cancun, Los Cabos and Mexico City, as well as Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Those cities are all currently served by AirTran.

Despite being the largest domestic carrier in the U.S., Southwest has never flown internationally, partly because of technology constraints in its passenger reservation system.