Southwest Airlines reports record 4th-quarter earnings

Matt York / AP

A Southwest Airlines jet takes flight in this undated file photo.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the busiest commercial air carrier at McCarran International Airport, reported its fourth-quarter 2013 earnings today.

Company: Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV)

Revenue: $4.428 billion (up 6.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012).

Earnings: $212 million (up 171.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012). It was a fourth-quarter record for Southwest. Excluding special items – adjustments involving tax payments and one-time expenses – the company posted a 263.1 percent increase to $236 million.

Earnings per share: 30 cents (up 172.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012). Excluding special items, Southwest made 33 cents a share; Wall Street experts had projected it to be 29 cents.

What it means: Southwest continued to ride a 41-year profitability wave in 2013, thanks in large part to cost savings and expansion brought about by its acquisition of AirTran. It’s only expected to continue this year.

The airline converted six of 52 Boeing 737s from AirTran to Southwest operations, sold 13 of 88 AirTran Boeing 717s to Delta Air Lines and transitioned four AirTran cities to Southwest destinations.

The company also added six seats each to 450 of the company’s 737s and bumped up ancillary revenue by increasing the cost of the company’s Early Bird seat-selection process and installing WiFi on most of its planes.

Opportunities are expected to continue through 2014 with the full integration of AirTran by the end of the year, additional flight slots at route-limited LaGuardia Airport in New York and Washington Reagan National Airport, new nonstop flights to and from Dallas with the expiration of the Wright Amendment in October and international expansion from a new terminal at Houston’s Hobby International Airport due in early 2015.

Southwest is gearing up for international service from Houston and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. Later this month, it is expected to debut its new international website to convert AirTran’s international markets – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Punta Cana; Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Aruba – to Southwest cities.

In this morning’s conference call, Southwest Chairman, President and CEO Gary Kelly said the airline isn’t ready to reveal any plans involving nonstop or connecting international service to and from Las Vegas.

Within days, Southwest is expected to announce routes, schedules and prices for the airline’s first international flights.