The DOT Wants Delta to Keep Flying From Love Field, Even Without a Leased Gate

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.

That leaves:

  • 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)

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. I would also add, a great example of how your government does a terrific job protecting corporations’ interests. Its constituents? Not so much.

  2. @pavel – how so? (I don’t disagree, but in this case, it appears they are trying to rectify the mistake)

    I think DL deserves to stay. The whole goal of the divestment of the 2 gates was to increase competition. The 5 party agreement allowed for each carrier to keep service. If DL is forced out, competition is reduced, and no one (but Southwest) wins. I understand why the city had to support Southwest, so glad to see the DOT actually try to do something positive for a change.

    I am curious if VX’s announcement of DAL-AUS today is an attempt to lock delta out of their gates, though.

  3. Problem solved if there is no silly gate cap, which serves the interests only of SWA and the wealthy folks who don’t want an airport nearby … to the detriment of competition benefiting everyone else.

  4. Although, not a fan of Delta. I think it makes sense to keep competition. I wish they do something similar here in ATL, to promote more competition.

  5. @Noah Virgin America gets the American gates, Delta uses the United gates … at issue is whether the United gates can be transferred to Southwest or not.

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