DALLAS – Southwest Airlines today announced its intention to build a codeshare partnership with Canadian carrier WestJet. The two airlines have completed the first step in creating a relationship that will eventually allow the carriers to offer customers a seamless travel experience to a wide array of destinations. This initial agreement puts the two airlines on a path toward bringing more low fares and a better customer experience across the US/Canadian border. The airlines plan to announce codeshare flight schedules and additional features regarding the partnership by late 2009. Certain details of the codeshare and elements of the partnership are subject to approvals by both the US and Canadian governments.

“A company’s dedication to culture and customer service are very high on our priority list when considering a relationship of any kind,” said Southwest Airlines chairman and CEO Gary Kelly. “We are confident that we’ve found a perfect fit with WestJet, and we are excited to work toward opening our expansive US network to include Canadian destinations.”

WestJet was founded in 1996 as a western Canadian regional carrier with three aircraft flying to five cities. Today, WestJet is Canada’s leading high-value, low-fare airline, offering scheduled service to 49 destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The airline operates a fleet of 75 Boeing Next-Generation 737-series aircraft.

“This is a defining moment for WestJet. Clearly, we are delivering on our strategic plan with this announcement today. It marks an important step forward for our guests and their ability to fly to more destinations in the United States conveniently and cost effectively,” said WestJet president and CEO Sean Durfy. “When you examine our network in Canada and Southwest’s network in the United States, and the potential to significantly improve both organization’s market access, this is indeed a great day.”

The airlines are not ready to announce routes, schedules, or fares at this point, but the agreement will eventually allow each carrier to check both customers and baggage to a passenger’s final destination. The codeshare partnership is intended to provide convenient, viable connecting schedules. In addition, southwest.com will soon become a distribution channel for WestJet’s existing Canadian and transborder flights, providing customers the opportunity to purchase WestJet’s existing flights via southwest.com (this option will be online before actual connecting codeshare flights are available for purchase). Other items that are on the list of things to consider include an integration of each carrier’s frequent flier program, ground handling opportunities, and a possible extension of the carriers’ cargo products.

“We are quickly moving forward with our plans to enter the international market with WestJet, an airline partner that we hold in high esteem,” Kelly said. “We have a very talented group of employees who will continue to work diligently over the next year to develop and deliver a superior international codeshare product into the marketplace.”

“It is an honor to partner with one of the great airline success stories of the world,” Durfy said. “The effort put forth by Gary Kelly and his management team to negotiate this relationship is most appreciated, and I look forward to building a great bond with Southwest. Together we will demonstrate that low-cost, high-value airlines represent the future success of air travel.”