Southwest was born out of Dallas’ Love Field. They built their identity around it. Their stock ticket symbol is LUV. Their flight attendants, in the 70s, wore hot pants and they introduced automated ticketing machines called “Quickies.”
But Dallas’ close-in airport was hobbled. The local area built up Dallas-Fort Worth and in exchange all of the incumbent airlines agreed to serve only DFW. When Southwest wanted to start service from Love, they sued. They wanted all airlines barred from the airport, not just those who had entered into an agreement as part of the DFW construction.
Future Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher started as the airline’s attorney. Their President was Lamar Muse, who was ultimately kicked out of the company by the board and with his son started Muse Air (colloquially dubbed “Revenge Air”). Southwest eventually bought Muse Air to stop both carriers’ bleeding.
Little could be done at the airport because when the major airlines lost in court, they turned to Congress which passed the Wright Amendment — so named for House Speaker Jim Wright, whose district emcompassed DFW (also known as the Congressman from American Airlines). It forbade flying beyond Texas and surrounding states with more than 56 seats. Additional states were added in 1997 and 2005.
There have been plenty of startup attempts from Love Field. My favorite was Legend Airlines headed by former FAA Administrator T. Allan McArtor. They pulled seats out of jets to bring them under the allowable threshold, offering an all business class airline out of the close-in airport. Lawsuites followed, and eventually the carrier ran out of cash.
The Wright Amendment expires October 13, and there’s plenty of opportunity at the airport now. There are 20 gates, and 16 of those are controlled by Southwest. 2 are leased by American, and 2 by United.
Delta has been subleasing the American gates. The Department of Justice demanded, as part of the American-US Airways merger, that those gates go to Virgin America.
So Delta has no more gates at the airport. They’re complaining that the airport is kicking them out.
True enough, United is sitting on gates. They’ve increased the frequency of Dallas Love Field – Houston Intercontinental flights they’re running with regional jets. Those regional jets sit on the ground for 90 minutes. That way they satisfy the terms of the gate leases, they’re fully utilized, and can’t be taken away to provide more service.
United doesn’t really want to provide service from the gates, but they don’t want anyone else to, either.
Delta, though, should blame the Department of Justice. If I can totally anthropomorphize for a moment… both DOJ and DOT seem to have man-crushes on Southwest and Virgin America. Southwest’s cost structure no longer even makes it a low cost carrier.
And Delta had big plans for the airport, and has been pushing for expansion. Instead, they’ve been pushed out.
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