Time to Prepare for Another in a Long History of Brawls Over Dallas/Love Field

DAL - Dallas/Love Field, Delta, Southwest

With all the divestitures announced when American and US Airways settled with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the most surprising result is the fight over two measly gates at tiny Dallas/Love Field. Southwest clearly wants them, but doesn’t know if it can have them. Delta wants them too, but DOJ doesn’t want them to have them. The feds clearly didn’t think this was going to work out the way it did. This is fitting since it wouldn’t be Love Field without a fight.

Dallas/Love Field is one weird airport. It was the primary airport for the entire Metroplex when Southwest started flying in 1971. At the time, Southwest coincidentally opened up shop at gates leased from Delta(see more via this post from Brian Lusk, a man who is sadly no longer with us). DFW was scheduled to open in 1974 and would become the primary airport. Any conflict could have been avoided by simply shutting Love Field down at the same time, but that would have been too easy. Instead, they opted to keep it open and Southwest opted to stick around while everyone else moved. The move was brilliant for Southwest in that it instantly made the airline the preferred carrier for people in Dallas itself because of how much closer Love was than DFW. The other airlines hated this, but after a court battle, Southwest was allowed to stay.

Delta Southwest Love Field Wrestlemania

After deregulation, the fight flared up again when Southwest started looking at flying outside the state of Texas. In the end, it took legislation to settle the issue. Per the Wright Amendment, Southwest was allowed to stay, but no airline could fly from Love to any state that didn’t touch Texas unless it used airplanes with 56 seats or less onboard. They couldn’t even sell tickets with a connection beyond neighboring states. In other words, it was supposed to be a truly regional airport, all to protect DFW and the big boys over there.

As Southwest succeeded, other airlines and states started noticing. Close-by states that didn’t touch Texas were mad that they couldn’t get low fare service so they relied on their Congresspeople to get them in. In 1997, service opened up to Alabama, Kansas, and Mississippi. Meanwhile, several start-up airlines tried and failed to make Love Field work for them the way it had worked for Southwest.

The most innovative of these was Legend Airlines which built itself a terminal and reconfigured DC-9s to have only 56 seats so that it could skirt the flight restrictions. The idea was a good one but it didn’t really matter. American fought it in court and ultimately, gave in and flew reconfigured Fokker 100s on top of Legend. Legend could never survive and it didn’t take long for American to pull out after Legend folded.

But by the turn of the century, the writing was on the wall. Southwest, which had operated quietly under the rules finally decided that enough was enough. It declared opposition to the Wright Amendment in 2004. In 2005, Missouri was added as an exempted state. (That was particularly helpful since Kansas City’s airport is on the Missouri side.) But that wasn’t going to appease Southwest. The issue went to the courts.

After a long, drawn out battle, there was a compromise. Congress passed a bill that would allow the Wright Amendment to be lifted in phases, but it would keep severe restrictions on Love Field’s capacity. In 2006, Southwest was allowed to begin selling tickets with connections beyond exempted states. But it would have to wait all the way until October 2014 until the restrictions on flights would disappear as well.

At the time of the agreement, the plan for a made-over Love was to have 20 gates that would be split up by occupants at the time. Southwest would get 16. Continental (now United) would get 2 gates to support its service to Houston (and beyond, if they so chose). American, the most bitter opponent of Love, would also get 2 gates that it had been clumsily trying to use to beat Southwest at its own game.

Unlike when trying to beat up on a defenseless competitor like Legend, American found it couldn’t beat Southwest so it pulled out of Love Field “temporarily” until the gate modernization was complete. Since that time, Delta has been leasing the gates so it could fly originally to Memphis and now to Atlanta instead. With the modernization nearly compete and the Wright Amendment scheduled to disappear in less than a year, a battle was bound to heat up. Then DOJ threw gunpowder on it.

In the agreement with American and US Airways, DOJ required that the airline give up its 2 gates at Love Field. The new American, clearly not interested in trying to beat Southwest at its own game anyway, gladly gave them up.

Naturally, Southwest wants to get its hands on those gates and expand to 18 total, but can it? Neither Southwest nor Love Field could answer that question for me. Some say that the gates have to become common-use. Others say that they can be leased out… but not to Southwest since the airline is capped at 16 in the agreement. JetBlue might like that interpretation if it wants to move its flights from DFW over to Love. Undoubtedly, the lawyers will need to earn their money to figure this one out.

But Delta was the one that threw a big ole’ wrench into the situation when it announced that next year it wants those gates to fly from Love to Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York/LaGuardia. That’s not what DOJ had in mind. The agency wanted the so-called (but not truly) low cost carriers to get anything that American and US Airways had to give up. Whether they can actually legally restrict it to those carriers is another story.

Ever since Delta dismantled its DFW hub, it has had a minimal presence in the region. If it gets the gates at Love, it will provide the only airport-to-airport competition to Southwest nonstops in those markets. And Southwest may not serve Minneapolis or Detroit nonstop, so Delta could provide new nonstop service. Of course, the counter argument is that people in the Metroplex already have access to those places if they drive a bit further out to DFW. If Southwest gets the gates at Love, it will provide new nonstop service that Southwest can’t serve without the gates.

From a Delta perspective, this is a worthwhile move. It will give the airline a leg-up against American for those who want to go into Dallas. And American won’t be able to enter the market itself. But this move has added some real complexity to what should have been fairly straightforward from DOJ’s perspective. That’s fitting, since when it comes to Love, there is rarely any love lost between airlines. Grab the popcorn and get ready to watch yet another in a long line of brawls.

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50 comments on “Time to Prepare for Another in a Long History of Brawls Over Dallas/Love Field

  1. As a very loyal WN customer, I would love to see them get the two gates, since it only will help on 10.14 when the restrictions are lifted, to get me where I want to go with less hassle.

    That said, this is probably a good move for Delta. Those routes will compete with WN at DAL and AA and JetBlue (to a lesser extent) over at DFW. I know several loyal Delta fliers, and they would love to have a real set of options out of DAL.

  2. I remember when B6 was planning on holding out for DAL, but chose DFW when Spirit entered BOS-DFW. I would imagine they would still be interested, similar to the IAD/DCA move. Concerned it could be too much CAPEX to get the a321s, DAL, LGA, and DCA slots, though.

    DL is angling hard and would bring meaningful competition to AA/WN by offering a superior airport and legacy connections. They are on a rampage these days!

    My questions: Are these 2 gates ones DL is currently using? If so, what is stopping them from expanding today? If not, how tight is their gate timing? Could they add other destinations without these gates?

    1. Yes, DL is currently leasing these gates. However they are still held to the 56-seat limit until Oct next year. DAL-ATL is already the longest flight DL has on a 50-seat RJ at 720 miles. All the other proposed destinations are much further (MSP is 855 miles, LGA is 1,380 miles) and would need to be on larger aircraft, which are not currently allowed.

      1. well they could do what Legend did, DL could take a DC9 at least for now and pull out seats and even push it as ‘luxury’ service to LGA/MSP to entice business travelers. But there must be a reason they haven’t done that.

      2. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that larger aircraft will be placed on these routes if DL gets the gates. Don’t forget that UA does some of their DFW-LAX/SFO/EWR runs on RJs, so the precedent is certainly there. Granted, a 1,380-mile flight in a crappy RJ will be a tougher sell if WN can compete with a nonstop on a 737.

        1. Delta caps it’s 50 seat jets onto routes less than 750 miles, plus even an CRJ-200 needs a gate and if Delta loses this battle, they will not have a gate.

        2. MeanMeosh – Those longer runs you mention are on CRJ-700s or Embraer 170s so they’re above the seat cap. They don’t use the 50 seaters on flights that long.

            1. Indeed. I was on a miserable three hour MSP-IAH flight yesterday. 1034 miles and, during the week at least, all flights are on E145 aircraft. There’s no mainline or ExPlus service on this route.

            2. It’s true that United uses the 145s on longer routes, but that’s going to change. They’re doing the same thing as Delta, ditching 50 seaters in favor of 70/76 seaters. So we can expect those longer stages like Minneapolis (that’s pretty brutal) to go on to bigger airplanes.

  3. If the point of this divestiture is to foster competition, it obviously doesn’t make any sense to give those gates to Southwest — they already have a near-lock on the airport.

    I don’t know whether JetBlue or another new entrant could make a buck at Love, given the near total domination of the airport by Southwest. Logic, and history, suggests that the best use of the gates is probably what they’re currently used for — which is to fly to a hub. That seems to be all that’s worked for other carriers so far. If that’s the case, and if no one else is interested, Delta has a very strong claim for those gates, despite the DOJ’s aversion.+

  4. Cranky, it is a rare event when I find something incorrect in your report, but Love did not serve the entire metroplex when Southwest started flying in 1971. Fort Worth’s Greater Southwest Airport did serve that city until DFW opened in 1974. From what I understand, GSW was quite the palace, and was built to be the primary metroplex airport, but Dallas wouldn’t support it.

    1. The real irony is DFW was built just to the North of Greater Southwest, and for the first few years of ops at DFW, if taking off to the south or landing to the north you got a great and fairly close view of Greater Southwest. Today the site is the coporate home of American Airlines

    2. Bravenav – They may have built it to be big, but it was well in decline by the time Southwest came around as you mentioned. It’s hard to consider that airport to have provided much use by that point. (And, fun fact, today, that airport partially lies underneath American’s headquarters.)

  5. After the US/AA merger is complete, there are only four airlines that really matter. WN has the other sixteen, UA already has two; so I think DL should get the last two. It’s the fairest solution IMO.

  6. I miss my Love Field days. I say let the gates go to whoever who want to pay the most for them – as long as they use them to their full potential.

  7. The whole Love/DFW thing has always been stupid. It’s like saying if you fly to JFK you can’t use LGA or if you fly to SFO you can’t use SJC/OAK. Look how many airlines used to fly to both ORD/MDW, so never understood the big deal between DAL and DFW except for spoiled rich Texan buddies with AA and didn’t want WN to be a success.

    1. It does seem silly today, but perhaps not quite as much if you consider the perspective from 45 years ago, when DFW was planned. DFW metro was a fraction of its size in the late 60s; in fact, even as late as the mid-80s, much of the land to the north and northwest of the airport was still cotton fields. Yes, you could say the same about JFK and ORD being out in the middle of nowhere, but both NY and Chicago dwarfed Dallas at the time. Given that Ft. Worth and the Mid Cities also had a much smaller population base then, as an airline, with most of your potential customers in Dallas proper (and for that matter, most of them living within 10 miles of downtown Dallas), you would have been crazy to voluntarily move from DAL to DFW; as a post above alludes to, the DFW experiment had been tried years earlier with Greater Southwest International Airport, but it was largely on its last legs by the time DFW opened due to the lack of traffic. So, at least in 1974, there was at least an argument to be made for making everybody move to the new airport.

      Of course, the fights in the years since then have been varying degrees of silliness. With the way the Metroplex has expanded since that time, there’s really no reason why the area can’t have two airports. Heck, I’d need a compelling reason to go to DAL to fly Southwest, even after they go to nonstop flights, just because it’s such a PITA to get there from the northern suburbs!

    1. Jerry – JetBlue isn’t trying to be that useful to you. It’s more about serving Bostonians who want to go to Dallas. And if they want to go into Dallas proper, it would give JetBlue an advantage over American.

  8. Cranky, Thank you for shedding more light on this issue. The politically initiated Wright Amendment was a typical Texas political ($$$) move, which put consumer well being and economics at the end of the line. Your excellent Blog details the recent and current moves to better serve consumers to and from that area. I am very pleased that this penalizing amendment is about to pass into the corrupt Texas history. Reports such as this one helps to better understand how bad politics can affect our nations vital transportation links and how difficult it can be to correct bad political ($$$) decisions.

  9. Thanks for a great summary of Love’s tortured history. Regards the politics, you had to be there at the time to understand how much Ft. Worth and their congressman, Jim Wright, hated Dallas. If you lived in Ft. Worth in the 60s and wanted to go to the east or west coast ( or practically anywhere else) by air, you had to go to Love. Dallas desperately needed a new airport as Love was land-locked with no additional ability to grow and already overcapacity (Braniff was the lead dog back then). In order to get it built, Dallas needed Ft. Worth’s help, but there was no way Ft. Worth was going to invest in the new airport without putting the restrictions on Love – thus the Wright Amendment. It’s a miracle it ever was built- city officials even fought over which direction the terminals faced (Ft. Worth or Dallas), thus the compromise of half facing west and half facing east.

    1. I was told there was also a fight over the name, Dallas/Fort Worth or Forth Worth/Dallas airport. I am glad they settled for “DFW”.

  10. Has anyone flown out of the Alliance airport (AFW) in Ft. Worth? About 15 years ago, FedEx made a move to use it for cargo but I lost track of it after I left FedEx.

    1. There’s no commercial service out of AFW. About the only use it gets is when there’s bad weather in the area, and a flight has to divert there for a short period of time.

      1. MeanMeosh – I seem to recall that Mesa had a short-lived operation at Alliance around 2000 or so. Anyone else remember that? Or was it another metroplex airport?

          1. It was – they used CRJs down here to HOU and I believe they may have flown FTW to SAT as well. It was short lived as it was a tough sale against WN/CO/AA…and I think DL may have still been in the market at that time.

    2. It’s also used as a 777 mtx base for AA. Not sure if it closed during bankruptcy, I remember that was one of the concessions the company wanted from the mechanics.

  11. While I’m not holding my breath, one of the Dallas Morning News articles mentioned “Virgin America Inc., which flies to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport from Los Angeles and San Francisco, said Thursday that it’s looking seriously at seeking the gates.”

    They could easily move their 6 daily departures from DFW over to DAL, and if they were to apply for (and get) any of the DCA and/or LGA slots, they could use those slots to serve DAL as well, since Love Field is within both LGA’s and DCA’s perimeters.

  12. Brett:

    Took my first flight into DAL last week — admittedly, a mileage run (yes I flew from Austin to Dallas via Houston — and it seemed everyone else on the flight had the same idea.)

    Great location — in fact half the drive to downtown Dallas is just getting out of the airport. Sure with that it would open up. An SFO-DAL non-stop would be tremendous.

    1. United will probably do a SFO – DAL. I expect United to serve their major hubs from DAL to keep Southwest from poaching too many business customers.

      1. Doubtful, they tried it already with CLE/EWR/DEN. I think they get enough lift from DAL down to IAH and of course the DFW flights. I am envisioning UA sitting this one out.

        1. Didn’t they try it with 50 seat regional jets though? It’s hard to make a profit on long flights with those things. I think a bigger plane, either a larger regional jet with first class amenities, or some of their many 737’s, would give them a better chance of succeeding this time around.

  13. Southwest has bigger problems than which airline gets the other 2 gates at Love. They are losing competitive advantage because their cost structure is now more like that of the legacy carriers. Without a business class or first class to bring in more more profit and with their high labor costs, it’s not clear how they can grow, given they are no longer the low fare leader.

    They’re entering the international market, but again, their only competitive advantage would have to be lower fares, either through cutting more costs or increased productivity. Southwest is a great airline. Hope they aren’t squeezed too tightly between the discount carriers like Spirit and the legacy airlines.

  14. The timing of this entry is interesting. Today, as we all know, is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. There have been numerous television programs over the past few days that show the president landing at Love Field and then starting his tragic motorcade through the streets of Dallas.

  15. This whole argument is crazy- if the people of Dallas have access by driving a little further to DFW, why don’t the people in and around Washington DC have access to the world by driving a little further to BWI or IAD, or the people of Chicago to MDW instead of midway or the people of MIA to FLL- or NY to JFK/EWR instead of LGA?
    So we have different contradictory rules for the Metroplex than the northeast?
    And has anyone noticed WN is no longer a “low cost” carrier- they are now often undercut by legacy’s on many routes.
    Same with J9 and Virgin America.
    And when Spirit throws in it’s fees for a boarding pass, water, overhead bin space, cushions on the seat frame and pay toilet tokens, they are not often particular cheaper either for their inferior brand of “service”.
    Get real DOJ.
    Or is this “Obamair”?

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