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?
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]