Aw, shucks, no cussin’. Peace has broken out at Love Field

The recent deal among all the feudin’ Texas good ole’ boys (and gals) to settle their little ole’ spat about Dallas Love Field has brought out the best in all: diplomacy from airport and airline figures, praise of the power of compromise from the mayors of both Fort Worth and Dallas (her honor’s a lady), and this from Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s chairman and former chief executive. “I have been involved in litigation, legislative struggles, and cuss fights over Love Field since 1972 – a period of 34 years. The fact that Southwest Airlines stands here today – stands here with Fort Worth, D/FW Airport, American Airlines and the City of Dallas – indicates, I believe, that there must be hope for world peace,” he said.

Cussing aside, the pact represents a real compromise: D/FW will give up its efforts to lure Southwest out of its home base and into the hub, American won’t fight loosening the limits, and local politicians will give up efforts to shut Love, owned by Dallas city and so not governed by the regional compact created for the huge American hub. This is a long way from what was becoming stubborn trench warfare between the two carriers and politicians in both cities. American had unleashed its enormous political power to restrict Love operations, a newly aggressive Southwest was fighting fiercely to overturn the Dallas Love Field limits and politicians on Capitol Hill were telling the North Texas folks to settle the deal in their own smoke-less chambers or face a mandate devised in the smoke free halls of Congress.

The compromise, as Herb says was a longtime coming. Back in the 1970s, Southwest had gone to court, suing for the right to offer service from Love Field, even though the airport was supposed to be shut down to allow D/FW to grow and develop. After Southwest’s lawyers, incuding Kelleher, succeeded, Congress legislated restrictions at the behest of then-House Majority Leader Jim Wright, whose district included Fort Worth. The Wright amendment said flights to and from LUV could only go to or from the states that border Texas.

The compromise came about after a big change by American, which had supported the original law and has doggedly fought any changes to the Wright amendment, no matter how small. Until 1997, it always prevailed in squelching challenges. But American, busy with important tasks like staying out of bankruptcy, saw the writing on the walls. That’s because in 1997, Congress added Alabama, Kansas, and Mississippi to the Wright perimeter in the so-called Shelby Amendment, named for the Alabama senator who headed the appropriations panel that year. Then late last year, lawmakers added Missouri and its two large cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, to the Wright perimeter when Missouri senator ‘Kit’ Bond took over the committee. American could ignore the small markets opened up by the 1997 change, but opening up the Missouri markets told American that the limits would disappear, either state by state, depending on rotating congressional-committee chairs, or in one fell swoop. 

American chief executive Gerard Arpey was as realistic as he was diplomatic in a statement afterwards: “Considering all the possible options, we believe this to be a pragmatic solution.” The new deal eases the Wright restrictions over the next few years but limits Love activity by capping its capacity at 20 gates and commits Southwest to about $200 million in improvements at the airport. That is supposed to make Love’s closest neighbours happy; the pact, which Congress is supposed to ratify, also ends restrictions on how southwest can market Love Field flights and on through checking of baggage, which is supposed to make flyers happy.  

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