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This next few years will be milestone ones for Southwest as it really gets its international service in gear.
Southwest Airlines is offering fliers a new option for hopping internationally from one sunny location to another — that would be Orange County to Cabo San Lucas.
Southwest’s first flight to Mexico is scheduled to take off from John Wayne Airport at 12:05 p.m. Sunday.
It’s also the airline’s first international flight from the West Coast, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said.
Sunday’s flight comes as part of a brand conversion after Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran Airways in 2011. AirTran has been making nonstop flights from Orange County to Mexico City and Cabo San Lucas/San Jose del Cabo since June 2012.
Dallas-based Southwest began routes from Atlanta, Baltimore and Orlando, Fla., to Aruba, Jamaica and the Bahamas after an announcement in January that it planned to roll out international flights come summer. At the time, Southwest said it planned 96 destinations in six countries by the end of the year, including all the international stops served by AirTran.
“We knew that there was promise in Orange County to Mexico,” Hawkins said.
The daily Cabo flight will have six more seats than the AirTran service supplied — for a total of 143. The number of flights per day and time of takeoff will depend on the time of year and demand, Hawkins said.
The route will benefit from Southwest’s “bags fly free” and no-change-fee policies, he added.
“It’s definitely an upgrade in terms of the power of the brand,” Hawkins said.
At midday Friday, rates for a one-way ticket on the first flight ranged from $201 for the Wanna Get Away option to $443 for a Business Select seat.
By comparison, a one-way ticket on a flight Sept. 7 costs between $147 and $443.
In July, John Wayne Airport lost service to Mexico when Interjet dropped flights to Mexico City and Guadalajara after less than two years.
John Wayne’s other international service includes one flight a day on WestJet to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Southwest Airlines has been flying out of John Wayne Airport since May 1994. ___