Delta Gets Pushed Out of Dallas Love Field by the Federal Government

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. While a part of me can sympathize with Delta for a second, I then realize that they can’t have it both ways. Delta is the same airline which for years has railed against a second airport in Atlanta, similar to what the Wright amendment and American tried to do in Dallas. So in the end, I sort of feel like Delta is getting a taste of their own medicine. Sorry Delta, you can’t always have it your way….

  2. To be fair, the REAL real culprit here is the ridiculous gate cap that SWA and others agreed to as part of the agreement in 2006 to end the WA. Allow a couple more gates (okay SWA would just snatch those), or at least the possibility of expansion, and there’s no more interest in forcing VX in, or UA sitting on those gates.

  3. @Andrew C- yes the gate cap should be lifted. American wanted it to limit competition against it at DFW, and Southwest loves it because they have a near-monopoly at Love Field. Heck, they actually mothballed and demolished gates there…

  4. Actually domestic air competition is both a statutory charge of USDOT and USDOJ. Is there a value the author would give to competition, lower fares and increased travel?

  5. Oh I know how SWA loves it. I was working there at HQ at the time that agreement was announced – rank and file employees were baffled and upper management was giddy.

  6. I was also noticing the other day that WN is no longer a LCC in any real sense of the word, except in that they aren’t part of an alliance and don’t have first class. Their fares are no longer low, their offerings are certainly not bargain basement (pretzels and peanuts, even cookies on longer flights) they fly to major airports like DCA, LGA, LAX, etc. and they fly internationally.

    My theory is that the mergers left room for a legacy-type carrier and WN rose to fill it. Meanwhile Frontier and Spirit have been expanding out of their previous niches to fill the corresponding hole WN (and to a lesser degree JetBlue) left in the LCC fabric

  7. Good post though brutally long-winded. The last few paragraphs were the real point, no? But, good intro for those that…well…like to read and have time on their hands.

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