Delta Airlines and Southwest in Battle For Dallas Love Field

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Southwest Airlines’ CEO Gary Kelly has highlighted his dislike for Delta Airlines operating out of Dallas Love Field airport, calling the airline a ‘squatter’. The Atlanta airline should have left the airport years ago but have remained on the basis that they think it’s in the interest of Dallas residents. The case has been dragging through the court for years, with no resolution yet achieved.

Southwest
Southwest want Delta out of Love Field. Photo: Southwest

They say that all is fair in love and war, but at Love Field airport, Southwest think things are not fair at all. The battle between Southwest and Delta for gates at Love Field has been raging for several years and is showing no signs of producing a clear winner yet.

This week, Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly has been quoted as saying Delta is a ‘squatter’ at the airport. As reported by Bizjournals, Speaking at a North Dallas Chamber of Commerce event, Kelly said:

“It’s like you having rented a house, and there’s a squatter in the house and you’ve got to get them out… It’s really no more complicated than that.”

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly Visits Dallas Love Field
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly checks bags at Dallas Love Field. Photo: Southwest

Almost four years since the case went to court, Delta is still running its five daily flights out of Love Field. In response to the Southwest comments, a Delta spokesperson said:

“Only long term, meaningful competition provides the best options and fares for the citizens of Dallas. And to that end, we are pursuing our right to continue flying out of Love Field.”

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Not only do they refuse to move out of Love Field, but Delta have also requested eight additional flights from the airport. They say that some of Alaska Airlines gate space is being underutilized and have demanded they be allowed to take over.

From 70 gates to just 20

Back in 1973, Love Field boasted more than 70 gates and was the eight busiest airport in the US. However, the opening of Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) in January 1974 saw most passenger connections at Love Field discontinued.

Since then, the airport has had many of its concourses decommissioned and has downgraded to the small airport we see today. Indeed, Fort Worth authorities were keen to ensure it didn’t compete with the new DFW airport, and as such, a compromise law was passed to restrict the flow of traffic, known as the Wright Amendment.

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dallas love field 2013
Dallas Love Field was once one of the busiest airports in the US. Photo: Wikipedia

This law allowed Southwest, and other airlines, to continue operating out of Love Field, but only on routes within Texas and its four neighboring states. Airlines were not allowed to offer connecting flights or through ticketing outside of the five states either, although long haul service was allowed by only on aircraft carrying fewer than 56 passengers.

In 2006, a full repeal of the Wright Amendment was sought by American, Southwest, DFW airport and the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. This came with some caveats, however, such as limiting the gate numbers to just 20, and allowing Southwest control over 16 of them. The cap on routes and plane size was subsequently entirely lifted in 2014.

How Delta got involved

For several years, Delta operated flights from Love Field to Atlanta by subleasing American Airways gates. When American Airlines was looking to get its merger with US Airways approved by the DOJ, they were forced to give up their slots at Love Field.

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As Delta failed to buy the slots, they were told they would have to stop flying from Love Field. Delta were not at all happy about this and threatened to sue the city of Dallas. As a temporary resolution, Southwest agreed to let them use some of their gate space until January 2015.

Southwest Airlines HQ
Love Field has been the Southwest Airlines HQ for many years. Photo: Wikimedia

When this agreement ended, Delta still didn’t want to ship out. United, who had in fact sold their gates to Southwest, agreed to give Delta gate space until July that year. With Delta still unwilling to pack up shop in Love Field, the City of Dallas brought a lawsuit in federal court to finally resolve their claims.

The upshot of this was that, perhaps surprisingly, Delta won. They argued that competition policies and federal aviation law was on their side, and in January 2016 won a temporary injunction to continue providing service at Love Field using Southwest’s gate rights.

Believe it or not, the case is still lumbering through court three years later. Although Delta’s temporary injunction means they are legally able to operate flights from Love Field, a final and permanent decision is yet to be reached.

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Who’s in the right here?

From Delta’s point of view, they think that because they were operating flights at Love Field since before Southwest increased their schedule to full capacity, they should be allowed to continue working out of the airport.

Southwest
Southwest at Dallas Love Field. Photo: Southwest

For Southwest, however, you can kinda see their point. They paid an estimated $120m to United for those gates, and since buying them have had a sitting tenant that they just can’t shift. The other gates they own are operating at the maximum 10 a day capacity, and the airline is keen to gain control of the Delta gates to further expand their services.

“We are at capacity at Love Field,” Kelly said recently. “We have 17 and a half gates that we’re operating out of. It should be 18, if I didn’t mention that earlier. It should be 18.”

According to reports, United Airlines offered their gates to Delta first, but Delta were unwilling to pay the price. They then turned to Southwest who pulled out their checkbook immediately. It seems that now Delta want the courts to give them for free something they were unwilling to pay a fair price for.

A resolution is still looking to be some time coming. Do you think Delta should be allowed to stay at Love Field, or have they outstayed their welcome more than long enough already? Let us know in the comments.

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