Dallas Tells Delta to Take a Hike, No Room For the Airline at Love Field

DAL - Dallas/Love Field, Delta

Remember how the Department of Justice (DOJ) was so concerned with preserving competition at Dallas/Love Field as part of the American/US Airways merger? Well, the many pieces of that plan have no fallen into place, and there’s an odd man out. Delta is being kicked out of the airport entirely because there’s no longer any room. Hooray… competition?

Dallas Kicks Delta Out of Love Field

This doesn’t really come as a surprise. As part of the Wright Amendment settlement, Love Field was capped at no more than 20 gates and Southwest controlled 16 of them. Two were more were controlled by United via an Express partner and were used primarily for flights to Houston. The airline tried Denver but that failed miserably. The last two were controlled by American, but it hadn’t flown there for awhile. Instead, it had leased the gates out to Delta which used them most recently for Atlanta flights.

As part of the American/US Airways merger, DOJ forced American to give up its two gates. American, under new management, had no interest in flying to Love anymore anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. But there were plenty of airlines that wanted those gates. Delta proposed creating a substantial operation with flights to all its hubs. Virgin America proposed to fly to its LA and San Francisco hubs as well as to New York and Washington. Southwest hoped to just add more flights to its schedule. In the end, DOJ chose Virgin America.

With those two gates taken, Delta had to abandon its plans to serve all of its hubs from Love (some flights, like LAX, were started at DFW instead), but it had hoped to keep flying its already-existing five daily flights to Atlanta. That’s not happening.

Southwest may control 16 gates, but it is planning on using the heck out of them. There’s no room for Delta there. Virgin America is also trying to pack in flights at its two gates, so Delta couldn’t squeeze in there either. That left the two United-occupied gates as the only hope.

As of now, United flies a mere 5 to 7 flights a day to Houston/Intercontinental. I believe it’s from these gates that little Seaport operates its two daily essential air service flights to Arkansas as well. Combined, these barely need the use of more than one gate. There could have been room for Delta.

But if you’re United, why would you ever want to let Delta stay in Love Field if you can prevent it? You wouldn’t. And apparently United is so afraid of Delta being there that it’s willing to burn a ton of cash to make it happen. Beginning next year, United bumps up its Houston flights to 11 or 12 daily. I can’t imagine that’s going to be remotely profitable, but that’s United’s choice. That left Dallas with no choice but to tell Delta that there’s no room for the airline.

This all seems insane, right? There’s no physical limit to the footprint at Love Field. They have plenty of runway to build more gates, but American fought it so hard under its previous management team that it got this artificial limit put in place. That keeps Southwest smaller than it might want to be there, and it now prevents Delta from flying to Love Field at all.

If DOJ was really concerned about competition, it should have put some effort into ending this silly artificial limit, but then again, who would really be supportive? If you’re Southwest, you actually love this. You have a built-in near-monopoly that guarantees you riches. Sure, Southwest might like to fly more from Love, but is it worth it to let others into the airport? No way. Competition is no fun if you can avoid it. And in this case, it’s easy for Southwest to avoid.

So the end result is that Delta is out at Love, and nobody else will get in unless an existing airline decides to cut back or this silly artificial limit is eliminated. This is one ridiculous situation.

[Original musical chairs photo via Shutterstock]

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47 comments on “Dallas Tells Delta to Take a Hike, No Room For the Airline at Love Field

  1. “This is one ridiculous situation.” Ever since DFW was built, that pretty much sums up Love Field.

  2. I agree that it is UA’s choice to fly 12x unprofitable flights, but it’s really annoying. Reminds me of PM-US at LGA with double digit flights to PHL. Basically, in the end, it seems that Southwest cleaned up. They eliminated a strong competitor and brought in a weak one. Virgin has no better grasp on the business market, has fewer growth possibilities than the legacies, and only has 2 real routes, and perhaps 5 destinations, on which they can compete.

  3. You forgot one other reason why that artificial gate cap exists – the neighborhood associations around the airport want it that way. They wanted Love Field closed in 1979, have raised a stink every time Southwest has tried to expand there, and only reluctantly agreed to the Wright repeal after the parties agreed to demolish the Legend Airlines terminal and cut the number of gates to 20. If the DOJ had tried to do something about that, I can guarantee it would have been in court for the next 20 years at least.

    Something still tells me we haven’t heard the last of this story. My suspicion – it’s all about the Benjamins, and UA is trying to extract a few extras to allow Delta to keep their five flights going. I also have to wonder if there is some kind of clause in their lease that prohibits “squatting” on the gates. I haven’t seen the lease terms, though Mayor Rawlings has been pretty vocal about his displeasure with the lack of use.

    1. MeanMeosh – Oh absolutely. The neighbors are a big part of the issue as well. It’s all one big political mess over there.

    2. The problems with the neighborhood associations are 1) the vast majority of people around the airport have moved there over the last 20-30 years, and they already knew there was an airport there, with lots of jet noise…and 2) there are dozens and dozens of private jet flights from Love every day, and most of those are louder than commercial jets.

      1. I’m sort of happy to see that this isn’t just a concern in Europe (where space is more limited), but also in the US. Why on earth would you go live next to an airport and then complain about the noise? I live near a canal, but you don’t hear me complaining about the noisy boats or the parties that are given?

        This type of people make me sick of mankind… Especially when they use that same airport twice a year to go on vacation.

      2. That’s a valid point, except the problems with the neighborhood associations long predates the Wright fights of the past 20-30 years. IIRC, those same associations (particularly in Bluffview) were at the front lines of trying to shut down DAL entirely back in the late 70s. Nothing new, in other words, though I’m sure the invasion of Cedar Springs by the hipsters isn’t going to help going forward. It’s similar in many ways to the neighborhoods that keep fighting SNA and LGB.

  4. This thing wasn’t designed with competition in mind. The political situation has been to “protect” DFW Airport since the day it opened. Those of you that are not from this area don’t understand, but Fort Worth has been jealous of Dallas’ airports and air options for more than half a century. Back then, most of the people in this area actually lived in the two cities, and they are 30 miles apart, so each wanted to capture the air travel for the area. Dallas was bigger, and had the primary business center, so naturally most of the air carriers went there. But Fort Worth’s city fathers were always trying to get service to compete with that.

    Keep in mind that this was in an era in which the FAA, not the carriers, decided who flew where. So there was always a political fight for routes. Back in the 50s there were also many point-to-point-to-point routes, where a plane might stop 3 or 4 times, so there were a number of routes that stopped in both Dallas and Fort Worth. But with the coming of the jet age, nonstop flights became more the norm, and there was an increasing economic disadvantage for two stops in the DFW area.

    To try and compete, Fort Worth built a new airport just south of where DFW is now. It was called Great Southwest Airport, and ultimately had 3 runways and a single terminal. They originally got some traffic, including a nonstop to Los Angeles on American. However, the FAA was getting fed up with the constant bickering between the two cities about routes, and continued to pressure them to build a single airport.

    Ultimately, with more federal pressure and funding, the two cities finally did agree to build a common airport, on the county boundary between the two. But the deal included an agreement that both of the city airports would stop operating commercial flights. Both cities agreed to this, as did all of the air carriers serving them.

    The thought was, if the two city airports were allowed to keep service, there would be a big hit to the traffic at DFW. For the Ft Worth side, this was not an issue – DFW was built almost over the top of Great Southwest Airport, and GSA absolutely HAD to close due to runway issues. But Love Field was still there, and still close to the business district and to the people with money in North Dallas. So the thought was that they would need to prohibit flights at Love Field to prevent carriers from scheduling a lot of flights there to cater to Dallas business travelers.

    The fly in the ointment was Southwest Airlines, which at the time was an intrastate carrier, and thus not subject to the CAB (the board that decided what routes went where). They could fly to San Antonio and Houston, and not have to worry about getting federal approval. They started flying in 1971, about two years before DFW opened, and they didn’t sign the agreement to move. So when the other airlines moved to DFW, Southwest stayed.

    It generated one hell of a legal fight, one that has lasted over 40 years. Fort Worth was furious that Dallas could keep air service and not put it at DFW to share the money with them. American and Braniff were furious that they were forced to move while Southwest was allowed to stay in Dallas. So there were a zillion lawsuits over the issue, and at times Dallas tried to force Southwest out and close Love.

    The feds got involved in the argument, because of the issue that the service to DFW and Love affected other areas and other states. Part of the issue was that the House Majority Leader was from…Fort Worth. He was Jim Wright, and he later became Speaker of the House for a couple of years after Tip O’Neill retired. He brokered a “deal” in which there were artificial restrictions put on Love, basically allowing Southwest to serve only cities in Texas, but they would be allowed to do so free of any other restrictions. It was a law that was passed in Congress, and it bore his name, the Wright Amendment.

    Over time, it was changed several times. Southwest petitioned and ultimately won approval to serve states that touch Texas, so they could fly to places like Oklahoma City and New Orleans…after lots of legal wrangling. But to fly anywhere else, you had to buy two separate tickets, and you could NOT check baggage through. You had to go get your bags at the claim at the middle city, and go check them again to where you wanted to go.

    There were more fights, because the law had a loophole that allowed “commuter” type planes to fly elsewhere, as long as they had less than 56 seats. This was done so that private jets could fly anywhere without worrying about the restrictions, but several airlines tried to start service beyond the Wright perimeter by taking a bunch of seats out of large jets. More litigation…and ultimately the amendment was clarified that any plane could fly outside the perimeter as long as it held less than 56 seats.

    American and Continental then put some commuter-style flights in Love…and there was MORE lawsuit activity because they had agreed not to. At that time, Mesa Airlines tried to do the same at a local airport in Fort Worth, Meacham Field, but Fort Worth sued its own airport and Mesa and forced them out.

    Other states’ politicians wanted Southwest service, and won some more changes to Wright, including extension to Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas. That was the Shelby Amendment, by Richard Shelby from Alabama, of course. More litigation…

    And there was still more fighting and more pressure to open up Love to national flights. As a “compromise”, an agreement was made to open up Love, but to cap it at 20 gates to “protect” DFW (read: keep all the flights there so Fort Worth can continue to cash in). And there could be no international flights.

    So there are still protections put into place to keep flights at DFW. It’s not about competition. It’s about protecting Fort Worth’s interests at DFW. It’s also serves American Airlines, by preventing any serious competition at Love. And it serves Southwest very well as well – by capping the gates and keeping them almost all for them, they have a near monopoly there and don’t have to worry about being undercut on fares on any significant scale. Southwest is no longer the little airline that can, and they “LUV” the protection on fares here.

    Sorry for the rant, but this has NEVER been about competition. It’s about stifling it, and protecting the money trail for Fort Worth, for American, and for Southwest. The only losers here are the public, who don’t get real competition, and the lawyers, who finally see the gold mine exhausted.

    1. Thank you for this extensive explanation! Of course, I’ve read the Wikipedia-pages, but this gives a lot more insight.

    2. The Fort Worth airport was Greater (not Great) Southwest Int’l Airport–airport code GSW, not GSA. When it was originally built, its name was Amon Carter Field (ACF). That name went over real well in Dallas. BTW, Amon Carter Blvd in Fort Worth (the location of AA HQ) is a street built over the former runway 17/35 of GSW. Check this page on airfields-freeman.com for some more history of the Fort Worth airport:

    3. Great explanation of the history, but it has a gap…

      In 1967, Air Southwest incorporated with the intent to follow the PSA/Air Cal model of intra-state flying. However, in February 1968, when the Texas Aeronautics Commission granted Air Southwest the right to fly within Texas, Braniff, Trans-Texas (later Texas International) and Continental filed a lawsuit and obtained a restraining order which prevented Air Southwest from commencing operations. Air Southwest spent the next three years fighting for its right to fly. At the same time, the airlines that were operating out Dallas Love Field all signed contracts specifying that they would move their operations to DFW. Had the three airlines NOT sued to prevent Southwest from operating, Southwest would also have had to sign the same contract.

    4. Thank you for sharing this information. I’d just like to comment that even though it wasn’t about competition in the past, I don’t think you can say that it has never been about competition. The DOJ made it that way when they took the two gates from American in the name of competition.

      1. I’m with Rickd on this. It doesn’t matter what it was designed for originally. DOJ was specifically charged with expanding competition, so that’s exactly what the latest moves should have been about regardless of the history.

  5. Don’t worry, I don’t think DL will go under because it can’t fly 5x DAL-ATL……lol

    The way it is now, no one will ever be a power house in DAL except Southwest, so it doesn’t really matter who else flys there.

  6. Speaking of ridiculous situations how about the perimiter rules that limit how far flights can go from DCA, LGA, and SNA? Those are even sillier rules that need to go.

        1. 121 Pilot – Nope. They do have slots there, however. It used to be tough to get in but now it’s not. But they did open a customs facility last year, so they have Mexican operations and nonstops that go as far as Newark.

    1. SNA doesn’t have a perimeter rule, to my knowledge. What it does have is a curfew and some pretty draconian noise abatement procedures, both related to all those million dollar homes that were built in the flight path of the airport.

  7. Agree that the whole situation is ridiculous and should never have been approved in its final form. The end result of this “compromise” is, as you’ve said, an entrenched monopoly for Southwest at Love Field. That doesn’t seem to bother the DOT or the DOJ, both of whom bend over backwards to appease Southwest every opportunity they get. Whatever baby wants, baby gets.

    Southwest isn’t happy with its access to LGA? OK, here’s more slot pairs. Unhappy you can’t get into DCA? OK, here’s a bunch of slots that you can use to fly to Tampa and Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, just like you always do. Want to buy out a competitor just because they’re trashing your yields in the face of your rapidly rising costs? Go right ahead, no concessions required! Want a near-deadlock on an in-city airport and a gate cap to shut out all your competition. You got it, princess!

    It’s not the 1990s anymore and the “Southwest Effect” is dead. It’s time the authorities stopped stripping service opportunities away from the other legacies and offering them to Southwest on a silver platter. The airline did a lot of great things, but it’s been trading on its halo effect for far too long now.

  8. Is there no greater hate in business today than that of one airline toward another?

    Likewise, is there no greater foolishness than that which a local politician can pull off?

    And that’s the way it is, but what a country, huh?

  9. Well more intrigue today. Appears UA was simply making sure the City of Dallas ran off DL yesterday, because today they announced a temporary gate use agreement with WN for 1 of their 2 gates, giving WN 17 gates now. UA also said they are increasing their daily IAH departures to 10, but I think that was just an excuse so that they could say it wasn’t possible to come to a gate use agreement with DL.

    As cranky flier stated, UA is going to lose a bunch of money flying regional jets to IAH, my money is on a sublease to WN…

    1. Wow. If UA doesn’t follow through on ending the lease in January I wonder if they’ve set themselves and WN up for a lawsuit for tortuous interference or something like that.

      It seems sketchy that WN needs one additional gate for only two months..

    2. Alex – Ooh, that is juicy drama right there. Here’s the full piece on it:

      This definitely appears to be one gate to WN only until the January schedule comes into place where United has much more flying. But guess what I found out? If you look at United’s schedule, it keeps its regional jets on the ground at Love Field on a 90 minute turn for every flight. So that’s how it really spreads out and uses 2 gates starting in January. Pathetic.

      1. I’m surprised that UA is not going to get DAL-ORD a try. I know they failed with Denver but ORD Is complete different. It might be a good market is Virgin American can’t find the planes/space to serve ORD.

        1. The problem with that is that American already flies 17 times a day to Chicago, and now Southwest will fly to Midway a bunch of times. Throw in that Virgin has announced it wants to fly the route, and there’s just no room there. Doesn’t make much sense, and probably most of the traffic they’d generate would be taken from DFW anyway.

          Chicago and Dallas are hubs for both Southwest and American. When you have hubs on either end, it’s hard to get into a route, let alone when there are two on either end.

      2. What makes even less sense, if you think about it, is that WN hits its maximum post-Wright schedule starting January 6, at 153 flights per day – which just happens to be the same day that its sublease with UA ends. In other words, they’re borrowing a gate now, only to drop back to 16 when they actually start flying their full schedule!

  10. I could go on and on about why Delta would have been a better choice than Virgin (prowess to price competitively and undercut Southwest, connections to anywhere in the world with one stop, no love lost between Delta and Southwest given SLC and ATL, etc.). As a Dallas resident, I’m extremely angry that local politicians fell victim to the concept that adding a “low cost carrier” would increase competition at the airport. Virgin’s routes are 100% duplicative of Southwest, and Southwest will crush them.

    Also, Virgin was stupid for doing this. With such a scarcity in flights, Virgin will never appeal to DC/NY business travelers in Dallas. And even if they do, they have no opportunity to grow. I predict Virgin will be gone in three years, and Delta will still be foaming at the mouth for those gates.

  11. Something not talked about is the fact that the new AA management team has stated that if they were allowed to keep the DAL gates they would have flown out of them. Again, another airline to add competition.

  12. I don’t understand the logic behind these artificial limits. DFW is one of the busiest airport in the world. Is it really at risk if DAL adds a few flights? Both MDW and BUR are closer to their downtown areas than ORD and LAX, and neither one has any limits, and yet the bigger, further airports are doing just fine.

    However, I understand that AA has a lot of power in Washington, DC, and knows how to use it. However, I’m glad to see VX at DAL. Hopefully they will stimulate competition.

    1. See my post above. The limitations are a legacy of the long fight between Dallas and Fort Worth. If Fort Worth had its way, Love Field would close. This was a compromise.

  13. stinks!!…legacy airlines were forced to let southwest land in DCA and LGA…slot controlled, legacy controlled airports….WHY can southwest get away with monopolies in love field, houston hobby, and midway????

    1. The Midway “monopoly” was really more of Southwest jumping at gate openings than federal intervention. The legacies all had a minimal presence at Midway with opportunity to expand several times. However, as airlines left (Midway, ATA, etc), the legacies decreased their presence and Southwest increased, with the recent exception of Delta. Therefore, I’m not sure Midway fits in the same mold as DCA and LGA, especially since MDW is not slot controlled.

      1. True. DAL was unique in that WN was restricted where it could fly even though it had a monopoly. On the other hand at MDW, WN has no restrictions & needs to compete with airlines at ORD. It does have two advantages at MDW though 1. proximity to the loop & 2. much less congestion

  14. Given what Delta is doing to Alaska in Seattle, I feel more than a little Schadenfreude at Delta’s predicament at Love. What goes around, comes around…

  15. Sounds like United is still being managed under the “fight for market share” philosophy by adding flights just to cut the competitor out, rather than a disciplined approach to capacity management. No one wins under the former approach and I don’t understand why they continue to push it.

  16. United turns around and subleases one the gates to Southwest, decides to nearly triple turn around time at rhe other gate. Delta has it’s lawers fire off a “we gonna sue” letter to Dallas because it promised to allow Delta Love Field access to the FAA in 09 . Funny, I remember Delta promising to not dehub Memphis to the DOJ to help allow them to complete the merger with TWA. Funny thing watching O and D traffic at Memphis rise as folks start using new Southwest and Frontier service. Looking forward to Memphis International’s Concourse consolidation and redo.

  17. As a Houstonian whose company has both Dallas and Fort Worth offices, I do fly to both DAL and DFW. DAL is of course closer if I’m headed to Dallas proper, but the one thing that really pushes me away from DFW is the rental car facility. The damned thing is so far away, and the common shuttle buses so packed, that it takes a good 30 minutes to get the car and leave. At DAL, you can practically walk to half the rental car agencies.

  18. BREAKING: Southwest has agreed to allow Delta to utilize an unspecified gate at DAL until the end of the year per Dallas Morning News

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