Pending Government Approval becomes a problem for Southwest Airlines in Mexico

Has anyone heard from Mexican aviation authorities lately? And if so, can you get them to call Southwest Airlines and American Airlines? Both are waiting anxiously for paperwork to be approved so that new routes can be launched. It does not appear that the government agency is responding to any requests at all from US carriers right now. A new bilateral treaty signed in late 2015 took effect in July 2016 and should have enabled significant expansion of service between the two countries. But something is not quite right with the implementation.

Southwest launched three new routes from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta last week. But it did so having not received the necessary paperwork approving the operation of such routes. American Airlines similarly planned the launch of a flight between Miami and Merida. The commonly seen fine print for new international routes of “Subject to Government Approval” is nearly always a matter of filing the paperwork and getting an approval reply. It is bureaucracy, to be certain, but rejections or delays in such applications are rare. Right now, however, the Mexican authorities appear to have gone silent on approving such route additions.

American and Southwest are awaiting approval on several trans-border flights
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Southwest’s operation of the new flights was a questionable move. Technically they are not authorized and the company could see some trouble for operating them anyways. As of mid-week the 10 daily flights were being canceled and passengers rerouted through other gateways. The routes are still for sale – and still with the government approval disclaimer – but it is unclear when Mexican authorities will deign to bless the US carriers with approval for these new routes. This could be particularly bad news for the Southwest and its passengers headed in to the Christmas/New Years peak season.

Southwest still has the new flights from LAX to Mexico on sale but no indication when it might finally receive the authorities to operate the service.
Southwest still has the new flights from LAX to Mexico on sale but no indication when it might finally receive the authorities to operate the service.

And I cannot help but wonder if this is a case of US aviation policy failings coming home to roost. The DoT spent three years avoiding approval of Norwegian’s application for its Irish subsidiary to operate US flights, despite “no avenue to reject” the application based on the treaties. Mexico similarly has no reason to reject the applications it has been presented with, but after months in a pending state they are still awaiting action. There’s also a chance that the Mexican authorities feel the US was too harsh on Aeromexico in its proposed joint venture with Delta, demanding far more slot pairs be ceded at New York’s JFK and Mexico City’s Benito Juarez airports than the Mexicans asked for, though that ruling came from the US well after it was expected that the Southwest and American routes would be approved.

And then there’s the possibility that this is political retribution. A delay during the final months of the US presidential election where comments about Mexico played an outsized role is not out of the realm of possibility. The country choosing to use this as a negotiating point is probably not fair but also not completely unheard of in international relations. If this is the beginning of a renegotiation of NAFTA things could get ugly in a hurry.

In the mean time, don’t expect much to come in the way of new service between the Mexico and the United States. That’s bad news for travelers and airlines and the rule of law. Ouch.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I have upcoming flight on Christmas eve from LAX to SJD.. I hope the flight does not get cancelled… If it gets cancelled, then my room cost at IHG hotel will be waste…

    1. Could you do the trip from SNA instead? If that is at all viable I’d be looking to change now to ensure a seat that is authorized to fly.

      1. I was thinking about that but I then sent email to Southwest and within 2 hours, they called me back and let me know that the issue is with paperwork from MX govt. and it should be resolved soon. If not, they will try to accommodate me via different route. As my Origin City is SJC (connecting via LAX), I think they may route me through SNA anyway…

        1. Yeah, I know the issue is with the paperwork. I am less confident that it will be resolved in 2 weeks. My point is that getting the reroute now ensures space on the connecting flights, too. That could get to be a problem around the holidays.

    1. I believe that political retribution is a distinct possibility in this case (and mention it in the story). I think things could get (even more) ugly in a hurry.

        1. Any number of trade or border control issues. And it could spread to other countries, too.

          These are the sorts of small things that can quickly become big problems if the backstage diplomacy isn’t operating correctly. And the incoming administration seems inclined to pick fights with a number of historically close trading partners in ways that could have broad impact on any number of industries, including aviation. Think we’ll see Open Skies with China any time soon? I’d bet we’re much further away from that than we were a year ago.

  2. Seth, I posted on FlyerTalk the beginning of November with a thread on this issue. Every day since Nov. 4, AA has been canceling these flights. I have called AA several times and at first I was informed the flights were cancelled due to weather. Hahaha. I hold a ticket for this route in February and am still trying to get answers from American. As I am flying using miles, it does not appear that AA will reroute me. And I’m unclear if I would be granted a cancellation without penalty. My dates are not flexible, so my alternative is Aeromexico or United with a much worse schedule. I’d love to know exactly what the holdup is so that I can decide to push for canceling – or wait it out.

    AA continued to sell tickets into last week, canceling flights on a daily basis. Currently they have pulled the route through January, but tickets are still being sold for February dates.

  3. Most MX government agencies have effectively shut down for the holidays after today. While that doesn’t explain past inaction, I’d be surprised if anything is forthcoming between now and the new year.

  4. Seth, you mention that “It does not appear that the government agency is responding to any requests at all from US carriers right now.”

    But according to Southwest Airlines, they are “optimistic that our close work with local authorities in Mexico will have us operating these newly added flights between Mexico and the U.S. very soon.”

    I feel like these carriers are just stringing passengers along with their fingers crossed, but if the Mexican government is really not responding, this does not bode well for anyone holding tickets.

    1. Of course they’re saying that. But there’s also no reason it should have taken this long to get things approved so I’m less inclined to believe that anything is progressing remotely close to like normal.

  5. Looks like they’ve been reinstated starting tomorrow for Southwest. Not sure whether the route authorities have been issued or not.

    1. Yup…just got word from an internal source that the paperwork was received shortly after the publicity around the problems flared up.

  6. Last night I returned from Puerto Vallarta. Things seemed to a bit of a challenge before leaving the airport. We returned to Santa Anna.

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