Southwest Airlines is finally going international from Los Angeles International Airport.
The airline said Wednesday it will fly daily from Los Angeles to Liberia, Costa Rica beginning in April 2016. This will be Southwest's first international destination from Los Angeles, and because its Terminal 1 has no Customs and Border Protection screening area, these flights will use Terminal 2. That will be a slight problem for customers, because even though the terminals are adjacent, they are not connected inside security.
"Our list of opportunities is long and Liberia, Costa Rica is just the beginning of the international destinations we plan to offer from LAX,” Andrew Watterson," Southwest's senior vice president of network & revenue management, said in a release.
If you're not familiar with Liberia, this might be a good time to do some research. Beaches near the airport are quickly becoming a vacation hotspot, with a bunch of newish luxury hotels, including a Four Seasons. Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines also fly from L.A. to Liberia, though neither flies daily.
Southwest started international flights last year, and it now serves 12 destinations from 12 cities. Los Angeles will be the 13th U.S. gateway, though Liberia is not a new destination - Southwest flies there from Houston. As long as Southwest receives government approval - it is nearly always granted - tickets from L.A. should go on sale early next year.
I think we can expect Southwest will add many of the most popular Latin America beach destinations from Los Angeles, leaving most of the larger business-type markets, like Guatemala City, Mexico City to other carriers, including American and Delta. But we shall see. Maybe Southwest will add a business market or two.
Southwest's operation at LAX now is a mess, but that's for good reason. Los Angeles World Airports and Southwest are spending more than $500 million on a full Terminal 1 renovation. A new ticketing lobby and baggage claim opens next year, but the full project won't be completed until 2018.
I wrote about the renovation back in 2013, when the plan was to spend about $400 million. The airport's then-executive director, Gina Marie Lindsey, told me travelers should not expect anything amazing.
"Obviously, Terminal 1 is pretty dog-eared," Lindsey said at the time. "I want to manage expectations here. While $400 million is a lot of money, it doesn't result in a brand new, sparkling, gleaming, terminal. But it will make some very important functional improvements."