MIAMI — Earlier this week, on October 13, 2013, Dallas Love Field began a yearlong celebration as the end of the Wright Amendment appears on the horizon. The draconian amendment, which has defined the airport’s history for over thirty years by severely restricting destination options, will come to an end on October 13, 2014. As the airport prepares to once again open up to the US, Southwest stands poised to strike and a new terminal for a new age is under construction.
Today we take a look back at the history of Dallas Love, an airfield rich in history, starting from its humble beginnings in 1917.
The Early Years
Like many early airfields, Dallas Love was initially established as a United States Army Air Service base. Set up in 1917, the base was used primarily to train new pilots during World War I. Four squadrons, consisting mostly of Curtiss JN-4D biplanes, moved in between 1917 and 1918, though their stay did not last long. Following the end of World War I the base was gradually wound down and eventually closed by the mid-20s.
Seeing the potential for civilian applications the city of Dallas bought the land in 1927 for $325,000. Regularly scheduled passenger service started not long after, with Delta Air Service flying from the Big D (Dallas’ nickname) to Jackson, Mississippi via Shreveport and Monroe, LA in 1929. Braniff Airlines followed with cargo services later the same year, though did not begin passenger operations until 1934.
Infrastructure was not to be left out either. In 1932 the first paved runways were completed, and in 1937 the first air traffic control tower was complete. The first terminal, located on Lemmon Avenue, was inaugurated in 1940. Two new runways, 18/36 and 13/31 were completed in 1943.
By the time World War II broke out Love Field had regular service from American, Braniff, and Delta. Yet the airport once again became an army air field during the war, serving as the Air Transport Command Headquarters. The base also hosted a number of ferry groups manned by Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadrons along with basic flight training in PT-19s. The base transitioned back to a civilian field once again at the end of the war.
The year 1947 saw the opening of the Lemmon Avenue Terminal, which became overcrowded almost immediately. The building was expanded repeatedly in an effort to keep up with demand and several wings were added through the 1950s. In 1950 Pioneer Airlines (one of the first feeder airlines) relocated their base from Houston, TX to the burgeoning Love Field in 1950, though they were bought out by Continental in 1955. By 1957 Braniff, American, Delta, Trans-Texas, Central Airlines, and Continental operated service to cities from Chicago to New York, Washington DC to Mexico City.
As traffic expanded and Lemmon Avenue Terminal Building began to burst at the seams a work order was submitted for a replacement terminal building in 1955. The new building was completed in 1958, just around the same time Continental began operating turboprop service from the field on Viscounts. The coming decade was to see significant expansion, though it was to be short-lived.
The late 1950s and 1960s were exceptionally good to the airport. Braniff, previously headquartered in nearby Ft Worth Meacham Field, relocated operations to Love Field in 1958. American Airlines brought the jet age to Dallas with new Boeing 707s in 1959.
Expansions continued as the airport continued to grow seemingly without end. Parking garages were added in 1965, and baggage and ticket counter extensions were started in 1966. American expanded their concourse in 1968. Braniff, underscoring their Love Field hub, opened what it called the “Terminal of the Future” in the same year. The innovative terminal featured the first fully automated monorail system, which took passengers from long term parking directing to the terminal along with jet bridges and the first rotunda concourse. Texas International expanded their facilities in 1969, and Delta did the same in 1970.
The DFW Problem
In 1968 it was agreed that Love Field would not be big enough to handle the increases in traffic anticipated to come. The cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth, each of whom supported burgeoning airports, agreed to shutter their respective airports and jointly build Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. In order to guarantee their investment authorities would wind up requiring all carriers at Love Field to relocate to the new airport once it opened, effectively shutting down Dallas Love for good.
Yet in 1971, a new carrier, known as Southwest, entered the scene offering intrastate service to cities across Texas. Quickly becoming popular the carrier saw a problem on the horizon with DFW. They would be required to move to DFW, much further away from downtown Dallas, and the carrier figured that it would kill their business model of short, cheap, and easy flying. So they decided to stay. The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth both sued the airline over the move in 1972, though the courts ultimately ruled in favor of the airline. Consequently, on January 13, 1974 Dallas/Fort Worth International officially opened, and Southwest was left at Dallas Love all by itself.
With every other carrier gone traffic predictably nose-dived. An all-time high of 6,668,398 enplanements in 1973 was contrasted with only 467,212 just two years later in 1975 – a 92% decrease. Several concourses were decommissioned and used for non-aviation purposes for a time. Many were later repurposed for a growing Southwest. While times had been better for the airport things continued to muddle long until 1978, the year that the airline industry became deregulated thereby allowing anyone to fly anywhere in the US.
Southwest immediately saw the advantage, and announced interstate flights to New Orleans the next year. The city of Fort Worth and the new DFW Airport folks were none too happy to see competition directly in their back yard, particularly where it wasn’t supposed to be. Armed with Ft. Worth based US Representative Jim Wright, the city didn’t just manage to pass a local law or successfully sue to stop Southwest, they managed to pass a federal law heavily restricting the airports operations. The law became known as the Wright Amendment.
The original law restricted the airfield in three key ways. First, passenger service or mid-sized or large aircraft (such as 727s and 737s) could only serve intrastate Texan routes, and/or to the four states bordering Texas. Second, airlines were welcome to serve any city they wanted beyond that as long as the airplane had 56 seats or less. This was squarely aimed at Southwest, which only operated larger and higher density Boeing 737s. Third, tickets could not be sold for travel in violation of the law. The third provision was particularly frustrating, as it meant that passengers going from Dallas to anywhere beyond Texas and the bordering states had to buy two sets of tickets: one set to leave Dallas, and a second set to continue onward.
Despite the heavy handicap, Southwest continued to flourish at the field. In 1992 the airport saw 2,948,535 enplanements, still a shadow of its 1973 self but an impressive improvement over its 1975 low. Several smaller regional carriers, the most successful of which was Muse Air, attempted to replicate the success of Southwest but ultimately failed. Other mainline carriers, seeing the success of Southwest, attempted to move back in through the 1980s and 1990s but were bogged down in the courts as DFW and the City of Fort Worth aggressively fought expansion. The city of Dallas came to their aid in 1992 and began lobbying for repeal of the amendment, setting up a bitter rivalry with sister city Fort Worth.
The fight continued going in circles until 1997, when a small break-through finally delivered a crack when Congress passed the Shelby Amendment to the existing Wright Amendment. Most importantly the new amendment expanded serviceable states to Kansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Predictably Fort Worth and American (hubbed at DFW) sued to stop the amendment from going into effect, but ultimately lost in 2000. Missouri was later added in 2004.
Continental Express was the first major airline to return to the airport, restarting service in 1998. Delta, American started up not long after. Start-up carrier Legend Airlines began and ended its Love Field existence in the year 2000, having gone bankrupt from years of fighting American Airlines in court over the ability to fly out of Love Field to begin with.
American, which continued to oppose Love Field’s existence for some time even after the court loss, fought tooth and nail to stay competitive early on. Famously the airline started service directly to Los Angeles using Fokker 100s outfitted entirely in first class. While the carrier left along with others following the post-9/11 air travel recession, they came back in 2004 and continued to offer head to head competition against Southwest.
Finally, however, in 2006 American, Southwest, DFW Airport, and the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth agreed to repeal the draconian Wright Amendment. Yet even this new arrangement came with strings attached. While the ban on nonstop flights outside the restricted zone would end in 2014 the airport would be limited to twenty gates (instead of the previous 32) and domestic US operations only. Thankfully, the onerous restriction on through-tickets ended right away.
The lifting of many restrictions has seen a surge in traffic, with 2008 showing more enplanements (over 8 million) than the airports 1973 heyday.
Present & Future
Anticipating a good thing coming, Southwest and the city of Dallas also decided in 2006 that the airport would be completely remade in time for the 2014 repeal of the Wright Amendment. The first phase of the new Dallas Love, the terminal from 1958 and its expansions continue to be in use today, was completed earlier this year in April.
The new concourse is spacious and light filled thanks to wide spaces and floor to ceiling windows. Art installations are also a big deal in the new building, featuring a number of exquisite mosaics, paintings, and glass works. Like many ne w terminals the building also has an emphasis on going green, with recyclable building materials and energy-efficient lighting.
Passengers will enjoy a wide range of dining and shopping options, many of which are intended to bring out the spirit of Dallas. Power outlets and USB chargers will be easier to find and more plentiful. Thirty minutes of free WiFi will be offered as well.
So far twelve out of the twenty coming gates have been completed, and Southwest has moved into them. Ultimately Southwest will receive sixteen of the new gates, leaving American and United with two gates each.
The second phase of the project will see the remainder of the gate areas completed along with new ticketing and baggage facilities. The project is scheduled to be completed early in October 2014, before the Wright Amendment expires on the 13th of the same month. What remains of the old terminal from 1958 and its myriad of expansions, which continues to be used in part today, will be eventually torn down.
During the next year Southwest is on a non-stop campaign of celebration leading up to the 13th. While the surrounding area is covered in billboards and signs marking the start of the countdown, the best is the countdown clock in the lobby of the company’s headquarters. The giant sign shows not only the countdown but six airplanes headed to not so subtle destinations beyond the Wright Zone. While they haven’t confirmed anything, the destinations that we might be likely to see on October 13th, 2013 include Chicago, Baltimore, Charlotte, Los Angeles/Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and somewhere in the northern plains.
As Dallas Love Field completes its comeback act this time next year, the future looks increasingly bright.