By Leslie Josephs, CNBC
Southwest Airlines carries more passengers within the United States than any other airline. Now it's looking to fly outside the U.S., including to destinations in South America.
Southwest's CEO Gary Kelly told shareholders on Wednesday that 96 percent of the carrier's flying is domestic and that it only serves 14 international destinations currently. But there are as many as 50 other destinations in North America and parts of South America that it could serve, he said.
"Not all next year," Kelly said. "It may take us 25 years."
While such an expansion could be many years a way, a move to northern South America could include destinations in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, where tourism has grown in recent years. Southwest's core market is leisure travelers. An expansion to South America could follow similar network growth to the region by competitors like Spirit and JetBlue, and possibly put it in competition with large U.S. airlines like Delta, United and American.
Southwest is focused this year on growing its domestic network. Last year it announced its plans to offerservice to Hawaii. Kelly said the goal is to sell flights to the islands by the year's end. The airline is in the process of revamping its fleet with new Boeing 737 MAX, a more fuel-efficient model of Boeing's best-selling plane.
Southwest last month announced it would not only fly to Hawaii from California but that it would fly between the islands, sending shares of Hawaiian Airlines tumbling.