Dallas Love Field has long been a source of contention. When Dallas Fort Worth airport was built, incumbent airlines all agreed to move their operations. Southwest Airlines hadn’t yet launched, so was not a party to that agreement. They planned to begin flying from Love Field, and faced lawsuits to block them from doing so.
Southwest eventually prevailed, by House Speaker Jim Wright (D-American Airlines) successfully pushed legislation to limit the flights that would be permitted from Love Field. That legislation was subsequently amended and in many ways phased out, but one limitation that came along with liberalization was that Love Field is limited to 20 gates.
Whereas once the law hemmed in Southwest, now it’s wholly protectionist, preventing new airlines from entering service there.
Prior to the American Airlines – US Airways merger,
- Southwest controlled 16 gates
- United controlled 2 gates
- American controlled 2 gates, which were leased to Delta
Though American wasn’t even flying from Love Field, the Department of Justice insisted that American divest its two gates there ‘to support competition’ and was forced to transfer the gates to Virgin America.
United, though, has sought to transfer its own gates to Southwest (it doesn’t really want to fly from Love Field, but it doesn’t want Delta to either). That deal apparently received the blessing of the Department of Justice, which seems to see anything benefiting Southwest as positive.
- Southwest controlling 18 gates
- Virgin America controlling 2 gates
In other words, less competition, and Delta without gates to serve the airport.
Though the Department of Justice was fine with the deal, the Department of Transportation appears to have ordered Dallas not to sign off. and Southwest has taken them to court.
We have the spectacle now of Southwest in court not for the right to operate, but to keep other airlines from operating. Times have changed!
The DOT’s position is that Delta should be entitled to continue to operate its flights, regardless of the terms of its sublease arrangement with United (effectively limiting United’s rights in those gates, and the rights of the owner of the airport as well). I have no background with which to evaluate the DOT’s claim that they have authority to take this position based on the federal subsidies provided to the airport.
Southwest contends that the move is “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law, in excess of statutory authority, and without observance of procedure by law.”
Southwest’s legal filing is here. And the saga of Love Field continues.
Regardless of how it turns out, it’s an interesting example of:
- How administrative agencies disagree even inside the same Administration
- Unintended consequences (the DOJ sought to increase competition by divesting American of its gates at Love Field, and the result appears to be reduced competition)
- How underdog companies fighting government bureaucracies turn into companies seeking government protections (prediction: Uber is next)