Southwest Airlines announced the first long-distance routes it will fly from Dallas Love Field once restrictions on such flights expire this fall.
Southwest’s first batch of new Dallas flights will begin Oct. 13, when the carrier adds nonstop flights between Love Field and the following five cities: Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Denver, Las Vegas and Orlando.
The next batch of flights will debut Nov. 2, with Southwest adding nonstops between Love Field and Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York LaGuardia, Phoenix, Orange County (Calif.), San Diego, Tampa and Washington Reagan National.
ARCHIVES: Bush signs bill repealing Wright Amendment in 8 years (October 2006)
ARCHIVES: Congress approves bill to lift Love Field flight limits (October 2006)
The new routes come as Love Field’s long-distance flight restrictions are set to expire Oct. 13.
“We’ll be free to serve all of the continental United States and all right here in the heart of Dallas,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly is quoted as saying by the Fort WorthStar-Telegram at a Monday morning press conference. “These new nonstops are going to bring very real competition to North Texas.”
Kelly said Southwest would reveal how many flights it will fly on each route this May, when it puts them up for sale in its reservation system. He added Southwest does not plan to drop any of its existing routes from Love Field to make way for the new cities. The carrier could, however, reduce its schedule to its existing destinations, according to the Star-Telegram.
Currently, the “Wright Amendment” rules restrict most flights from the close-in Dallas airport to Texas and eight nearby states.
The law stems from 1979 — ultimately referred to as the Wright Amendment for its author, former House Speaker Jim Wright — and forced flights leaving Love Field to land in Texas or the four states touching it: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. In later years, political interests ushered in exemptions that added Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri to the list.
Flights on planes seating 56 or fewer passengers are exempted from the Wright rules, though Southwest – by far the biggest carrier at Love Field – flies only Boeing jets that seat well over that figure. Some airlines – most recently Delta – have exploited that exemption to fly routes beyond those states.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Delta uses regional jets to skirt Wright Amendment limits (July 2012)
The Wright Amendment was part of a broader effort to help consolidate passenger traffic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and support the then-fledgling Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) airport. Southwest balked at moving to DFW, and was able to fly from Love Field — provided that its flights met the terms of the amendment.
Years of contentious debate followed before a compromise was finally reached in 2006. It called for an 8-year phase-out of the Wright Amendment that would culminate with the lifting of all distance restrictions on Oct. 13, 2014. As part of the compromise, it was agreed that Love Field would be restricted to domestic flights and that its capacity would be capped at 20 gates — down from 32 at the time of the 2006 agreement.
Southwest’s new Dallas flights are set to begin on the day Wright expires, and its new long-haul routes will put it into head-to-head competition with routes that rival American flies from its hub at DFW.
However, The Associated Press suggests Southwest’s toughest competition in North Texas “might come from Delta Air Lines, which is already selling tickets for flights in late 2014 from Love Field to New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Detroit.”
But AP notes that a hitch: Delta doesn’t own any gates at Love Field, instead leasing two that have an uncertain future.
Delta’s efforts are complicated by the gate cap instituted as part of the Wright compromise. American owns two of Love’s 20 gates, and — per its settlement with the Justice Department — must divest those as a condition to merge with US Airways.
Delta already is leasing those gates from American and has indicated its desire to buy them. Southwest also says it’s interested in the gates, though it already controls 16 of the 20 at Love Field.
Justice has previously indicated its preference for the assets to be divested in the American-US Airways merger to go to low-cost carriers. But it’s unclear how that might play out for Southwest at Love Field, given that it already has a near-monopoly on gates there.
AP notes that when Southwest CEO Kelly was asked recently about the possibility of expanding competition with Delta at Love Field, he replied: “It remains to be seen who will get those two gates.”
Stay tuned …
Courtesy of USA Today