DALLAS - Southwest Airlines is one step closer to flying to Hawaii.

Flight attendants approved contract changes that will allow the carrier to operate flights to the islands and nearby international destinations that require flying over oceans or the Gulf of Mexico.

The Transport Workers Union said Friday that 52.3 per cent of flight attendants voted in favour of the agreement, while 47.7 per cent opposed it. They rejected an earlier proposal in May.

Union officials say the deal should help flight attendants as Dallas-based Southwest grows beyond the 48 contiguous states.

"The industry is changing, and a lot of other airlines are securing these routes," said Stacy K. Martin, president of the flight attendants' union local. "We didn't want to inhibit Southwest."

Flight attendants will be required to get passports but the company will reimburse them for expenses.

Southwest pilots voted in June to approve overwater flights.

Airlines are required to carry special equipment such as rafts when they fly over water more than 50 miles from shore. Southwest will need those changes to fly to Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

By 2014, it expects to upgrade its reservations system to sell flights to Mexico and other close international sites that also require overwater flying. Southwest's AirTran Airways subsidiary already flies to Mexico and the Caribbean.