Love means war!

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February 07, 2014

Don’t judge the importance of Dallas Love Field by its size. It’s home base for U.S. low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines. According to Airports Council International – North America’s latest figures DAL was the 50th busiest commercial airfield in North America, handling 8,173,927 flyers in 2012. It may be comparatively tiny, but it’s also potentially powerful.

That potential will be tested this coming fall as, at long last, “Love” – as it is known – spreads its wings far wider. Dallas Love Field has been constrained by an outdated, anti-competitive law called the Wright Amendment.

It was designed to make sure smaller Dallas Love Field did not re-gain a significant air service when most of the region’s commercial airline flights moved to far larger Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when it opened in the early 1970s. The Wright Amendment was enacted essentially to give DFW “breathing room,” room to grow and thrive. That meant limiting flights out of Love.

Now, the last of the law is set to go to away. Wright, and its subsequent changes, limited full-size jet service from Love to nine states, including Texas.  Soon, large jets can leave nonstop from Love to 48 states (Texas included). Hawaii and Alaska are excluded.

Southwest is re-working its Love schedule.  You’ll be able to cross more state borders legally nonstop from Love aboard WN’s “Canyon Blue” Boeings. The key word here is “nonstop.” The current agreement mandates en-route stops on many important routes.

As of October 13 there will be new nonstop service to Baltimore/ Washington, Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago Midway. On board November 2 are new nonstops out of Dallas to Atlanta, Nashville, Reagan Washington National, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles International, New York LaGuardia, Phoenix, San Diego, Orange County and Tampa.

It’s Washington Reagan, LaGuardia and Los Angeles that matter most, prime business destinations frequented by flyers who tend to reside in upscale north Dallas. Often, they live closer to Love than DFW.

The issue is, what will American Airlines-dominated DFW lose to Love now that the Wright Amendment is about to die?

The man who runs DFW does not appear worried. According to the Dallas Business Journal DFW CEO Sean Donohue told a Dallas Chamber of Commerce breakfast he believes “American and Southwest [are] going to compete like hell,” something they’ve been doing “for decades all over the country.” He’s on record as saying the withering of Wright is “good news for the consumer of this region.”

It will be instructive to see just how low long-range, as opposed to mere introductory, airfares will be from Love to those new airports Southwest is getting set to serve nonstop. Let’s look at the situation in mid-2015 to see just how much the consumer really benefits. That’s the true test.

For all the easing of restraints, Love Field is still restricted. The number of gates at the airport are limited, and capped. International commercial jet service from the airport will continue to be forbidden. Meanwhile, downstate Houston Hobby is erecting a five-gate international terminal Southwest plans to use to fly to the Caribbean, Central and South America by 2016.

Unlike Love, Hobby is unfettered by Wright’s lasting legacy.