Southwest Airlines has called on US transport regulators to give priority to US airlines ahead of Mexican carriers in a slot proceeding, citing US president Donald Trump’s “America first” policies.
The Dallas-based carrier says the US Department of Transportation (DOT) should grant all Mexico City slot requests filed by US airlines, before allocating any to Mexican carriers.
The DOT is overseeing the allocation of slots at Mexico City and New York John F Kennedy airports, which must be divested by Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico in exchange for DOT approval of anti-trust immunity for their joint venture.
“Southwest urges the Department to grant all US carrier requests in full before allocating any MEX slots to Mexican carriers,” says Southwest in a DOT filing. “Not only would this be consistent with the Trump administration’s clearly stated goal to put America’s interests first, but there is no basis for depriving US carriers of scarce MEX slots in order to increase the holdings of Mexican carriers that already have vastly more slots than all eligible US carriers combined.”
A Southwest spokesperson tells FlightGlobal that its 30 January DOT filing “has nothing to do with politics”. The airline points to Mexican low-cost carriers’ presence at Mexico City airport, saying: “US low cost carriers have virtually no access to Mexico City International Airport, the largest airport in Mexico, where Mexican low cost carriers have nearly 100 times as many flights.”
Mexican low-cost carriers Volaris, Interjet and VivaAerobus hold a combined 39% share of flights at the Mexican capital’s airport, FlightGlobal schedules data show. Southwest and JetBlue Airways hold about a 1% share of flights at the airport.
Southwest’s spokeperson says: “We believe newly available Mexico City slots should be granted to US low cost carriers as a first priority due to this disparity.”
Southwest, along with other US carriers, had repeatedly expressed frustration in accessing slots at Mexico City airport. But the low-cost giant is the only US airline calling for the DOT to prioritise US carriers ahead of their Mexican counterparts in the slot proceeding. Southwest had in July 2016 called for the DOT, then under the Obama administration, to assign any divested slots only to US low-cost carriers.
It is not immediately clear if the DOT, now under Trump’s administration, will heed Southwest’s request. Under the Obama administration, the DOT had dismissed Southwest’s call when it finalised its anti-trust approval for Delta and Aeromexico in December: “Southwest has provided no evidence to demonstrate that the competition provided by Mexican LCCs is any less vigorous or of any less quality than that provided by US LCCs.”
New York-based JetBlue Airways urges the DOT to evenly split the Mexico City and New York JFK slots between US and Mexican airlines.
“JetBlue believes that Mexican carrier participation is crucial in order to craft a slot remedy benefiting airlines and consumers in both countries,” it says.
Under the first phase of the slot proceeding, the DOT will allocate 14 Mexico City slot pairs and two at New York JFK In a second phase, 10 Mexico City slot pairs and two JFK slot pairs are up for grabs.
Three US carriers and three Mexican airlines are seeking the slots. Competition for the Mexico City slots is stiffer than that for those at New York JFK. For the first phase, Mexican airlines are seeking eight slot pairs at Mexico City while US carriers requested for 10. In the second phase, Mexican airlines applied for nine slot pairs at Mexico City and US airlines are seeking four.
In comparison, Mexican airlines are seeking two slot pairs at New York JFK in the proceeding’s first phase and three slot pairs in the second phase.
Southwest is seeking two Mexico City slot pairs in the first phase to increase frequencies from Houston Hobby. In the second phase, it requested two additional slot pairs at Mexico City for new service from Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles.
Story was updated with statement from Southwest Airlines spokesperson