MIAMI — The ongoing contest to win two open gates at Dallas Love Field got a little hotter yesterday. None other than Sir Richard Branson himself appeared in Dallas to make the case for Virgin America moving into Dallas Love Field.
The uber-celebrity, whose Virgin Group is a minority owner in the carrier, has been making the rounds since Monday. Last night, he was partying it up, as only Branson and anything themed Virgin can, at an invite-only rally downtown. Today he’s been taking questions from local reporters at the upscale Hotel Zaza.
That he is town at all underscores that the Californian low-cost premium carrier’s bid for the coveted Love Field gates is not yet a done deal. Two weeks ago Virgin seemed pretty confident it’d walk away the victory, hosting a splashy shindig at a local Love Field FBO. In the event it announced it had reached a deal with American Airlines to sublease the two gates, and that the deal even received a blessing from the Department of Justice. All that was left was the seemingly perfunctory sign-off from city officials.
Those same officials, however, have yet to make any decision. Delta and Southwest are both likely pressing local leaders hard to keep themselves in the running, and it’s apparently working. The Dallas Morning News reported that the Dallas City Council’s transportation committee has decided “to kick the controversy up to a full council briefing” after a closed-door meeting on Monday. That meeting will happen tomorrow, on May 7th.
DMN reported that city consulted the matter with an aviation agency, which recommended the gates go to Southwest. Virgin America predictably says the study is flawed. Delta, who has been seeking the gates as well but early on was told it had no chance by the DOJ, continues to advocate that the gates to be returned to the city for “common use,” another word for shared.
Back to Virgin, besides trotting out Branson, the carrier also unveiled a new website dedicated to the cause, FreeLoveField.com (a domain name you would’ve thought Southwest would’ve bought eons ago to avoid this sort of irony…but we digress…). The site directs folks to grassroots action, releasing a Change.org petition anyone can sign to show support for Virgin. Current signature count: 23,105.
Should Virgin win the gates, which are being forced out American’s hands thanks to its merger settlement with the DOJ, it would create a new focus city at Love Field. It is already selling flights to four nonstop destinations beginning in October of this year. Service to Chicago O’Hare is expected to be added in 2015, with total service eventually growing to 18 daily flights.