Published in March 2016 issue
Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the USA, poised to pass Chicago as third largest within a decade. As with any city of such size, there is a great demand for travel. Two commercial airports address the need: Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) and the much smaller Dallas Love Field (DAL).
By Austin Speaker
Along with Fort Worth Meacham (FTW), Love Field is one of the region’s two remaining original airports. A third, Greater Southwest International, closed before the advent of DFW.
Dallas Love Field was founded in 1917 as a US Army pilot training base and is named for Moss L. Love, a Pilot who was killed when his biplane crashed in San Diego, California; the 10th fatality in U.S. Army aviation history. Pilots flocked to Love Field for the first of two stages of training before aerial deployment in World War I. By 1919, Love Field had outlived this purpose, and was converted into an aircraft storage facility. A few years later, in 1923, with military spending cut, all the airfield’s facilities were dismantled and sold. The airfield itself was sold to the City of Dallas for civil operations in 1927.
After National Air Transport operated the first passenger service at Love Field, other familiar names soon began to appear. By the close of the 1930s, American, Braniff, and Delta were all operating from the airport. Then came World War II. Despite the airport’s civilian ownership, it was pressed back into military service to serve as a training base, while still operating commercial services. The war’s end left a great deal of space for commercial expansion—which was useful, given the increasing competition from Meacham and, later, Greater Southwest.
Jet service came to Love Field in April 1959, when Continental Airlines began using Vickers Viscount turboprops. Just a few months later, in July, American Airlines brought the first true jet airliner, the Boeing 707, to Love Field for flights to New York. Though not the most famous visit of a 707 to the airport, this aircraft was greeted with great fanfare as it ushered in a new era of luxury travel at unprecedented speeds to the Dallas market.
A LEGACY OF INNOVATION
Love Field was the testbed for a number of technologies still used in major airports and other facilities to this day. The first moving sidewalk to be installed in an airport entered service at Dallas Love Field in 1958—and, although the mechanism had been replaced, that sidewalk remained on its original site until 2013, when the airport underwent its most recent renovation.
Also noteworthy is Braniff’s Terminal of the Future—a model for the modern airport. It featured one of the earliest autonomous monorail systems, the Jetrail, to ferry passengers between the terminal and the parking lot. The terminal featured the first rotunda concourse, a design which has since become common in many airports.
Although Love Field is a remarkable place in many respects, it is perhaps best known for one of its darkest hours. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived at Love Field aboard the brand new dedicated Air Force One—a modified 707 designated SAM 26000 that Kennedy himself had ordered only a year earlier. As the presidential motorcade made its way from Love Field toward downtown Dallas, shots rang out over Dealey Plaza, hitting the president in his open-top limousine. The motorcade quickly diverted to nearby Parkland Hospital, where President Kennedy died shortly thereafter. Vice-president Lyndon B. Johnson was then ferried back to Love Field, where he boarded the 707 again and awaited the arrival of Mrs. Kennedy and of the president’s remains before taking the oath of office onboard the aircraft—the only time this ceremony has taken place in such a setting. As soon as President Johnson had taken the oath, Air Force One returned to Washington. A plaque was recently added to the tarmac on that historic site.
CONSOLIDATION AND DECLINE
No discussion of Love Field would be complete without a nod to the airport that, in many ways, was its replacement. In 1964, tired of funding two significant airports in the same region, the US Federal Aviation Administration insisted that Dallas and Fort Worth consolidate their airports into a single new facility; thus, DFW was born. Planning and building the new airport took a decade, during which time Love Field continued to thrive as a major hub. By the time DFW opened in 1974, Love Field was a hub for both Braniff and American, boasting more than 70 gates and aircraft as large as the 747 visiting daily.
Virtually overnight, almost all of that grandeur ended. On January 13, 1974, DFW Airport opened for business, and all but one airline moved from Love Field to DFW.
However, the one airline that remained was different from all the others—it was a small intra- Texas carrier called Southwest Airlines (WN) that, having been founded just three years earlier, had not been around to sign the agreement to move to DFW with the other airlines). Despite attempts by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth to force Southwest to move, the airline sued and won the right to continue operating at Love Field.
So as most of the airport was being closed around it, Southwest stayed and grew, expanding from Love Field to other cities in Texas, moving beyond the ‘Texas Triangle’ of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
DEREGULATION AND RE-REGULATION
1978’s Industry deregulation meant major changes for Southwest Airlines, as it did for every carrier at the time. Without the regulations that had kept Southwest operating within Texas and much to the dismay of the City of Fort Worth and DFW, the airline decided that the time was right to reach beyond the state’s boundaries. Seeing the threat that Southwest and Love Field now posed to DFW, US Representative Jim Wright, who was from Fort Worth, introduced an amendment to the International Air Transportation Act of 1979.
The so-called Wright Amendment sought to protect the interests of DFW by restricting the usefulness of Love Field. Under the new provisions, nonstop flights from Love Field on mainline aircraft could only fly as far as four neighboring states: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. As tickets to destinations further afield could not be sold from Dallas, passengers wishing to connect to another flight had to purchase a separate ticket to continue on, reclaiming and rechecking their baggage in between. Still, this gave Southwest some room for growth. The airline began flying out of state, starting with a route to New Orleans.
By 1997, it was clear that DFW was strong and healthy, and that both Southwest and Love Field were being severely hampered by the Wright Amendment. This prompted the first change to the latter: the Shelby Amendment. Now three more states—Alabama, Kansas, and Mississippi—were granted direct access to Love field. Despite the new options, Southwest did not operate flights to any of these states until 2007, when it began service to Birmingham. Service to Wichita began in 2013, but nonstop service from Dallas to anywhere in Mississippi has never been offered (and Southwest has since ended all service to the state by withdrawing from Jackson in 2014).
Although the Wright Amendment was squarely aimed at limiting Southwest’s mainline-only service at Love Field, other airlines tried to skirt the restrictions by using a capacity loophole written into the law. As the restrictions applied only to aircraft with more than 56 seats, some airlines attempted service with small aircraft that had been reconfigured to remain under that limit. Legend Airlines (LC) was the best known of these short-lived operations. It operated a fleet of all-Business Class DC-9s with flights to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, and Washington DC. American followed suit using a fleet of Fokker 100s. Together, the carriers managed to make each other’s Love Field operations unprofitable, also partly because of the low yields of the so few seats available. Legend closed after less than a year of operation. American downgraded to even smaller aircraft and eventually withdrew from the airport altogether.
A further modification to the Wright Amendment came about in 2005, when Missouri was added to the list of approved destinations. Southwest quickly responded by adding service to Kansas City and St. Louis in the same year. This would prove to be the final modification to the Wright Amendment before the major overhaul that was to come.
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WRIGHT IS WRONG
Not long after the addition of Missouri to the Wright zone, Southwest Airlines and the City of Dallas agreed that the time had come for an end to the restrictions on the airport. A massive public campaign to repeal the amendment took center stage, against the opposition of Fort Worth and DFW. In the end, a compromise, since known as the Five Party Agreement, was reached. This agreement proposed to give airlines the freedom to fly anywhere in the US from Love Field, starting in eight years, and the immediate ability to throughticket to destinations beyond the restricted area. In exchange, the airport would be permanently capped at 20 gates and nonstop international service would be prohibited. Finally, the signatories—the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, DFW, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines—would be contractually obligated to refrain from any attempt to lift these new restrictions on the airport.
This agreement laid the foundation for the Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006, legislation that faced intense scrutiny in Congress as some of its provisions were widely considered to be anti-competitive. Several airlines, including JetBlue and Northwest, argued that the gate cap provision effectively precluded any new entrant from serving the airport. The Department of Justice argued that such a restriction violated anti-trust laws. Despite these objections, the bill passed in September and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 13, 2006, starting the eight-year clock on the effective date for the end of domestic distance restrictions and immediately allowing through-ticketing and Southwest’s famous one-stop service to cities outside the existing Wright zone.
AIRPORT MODERNIZATION AND POSTWRIGHT GROWTH
In preparation for the planned 2014 expansion, the City of Dallas and Southwest devised a plan to renovate Love Field to bring it into compliance with the new gate cap restriction and provide a more modern facility for passengers. The airport’s two remaining terminals would be consolidated into the existing landside one, while a brand new airside concourse with 20 gates would replace both of the existing ones. The new facilities were intended to open in time for the end of the Wright restrictions.
Other projects, such as the addition of parking facilities and a connection to DART, Dallas’s public transportation system, were also planned. Additional garages were completed and existing facilities upgraded. However, a proposed people mover connection to DART’s Burbank Station, adjacent to Southwest Airlines’ headquarters next door to the airport, was suspended indefinitely over cost and funding concerns. That left only a shuttle bus connection to the nearby Inwood/Love Field station.
In 2008, Love Field gained another carrier— Delta Air Lines (DL). Service from Memphis to Dallas was one of the first Delta routes to commence operations from the new hubs gained in the merger with Northwest Airlines (NW) earlier that year. Because the Wright restrictions were still in force and Tennessee was outside of the restricted zone, Delta elected to use 50-seat CRJ-100/200 aircraft to bypass the restrictions. In 2012, to coincide with its dismantling of the Memphis hub, the airline shifted this route to its much larger Atlanta hub, continuing to use the same aircraft types until the Wright Amendment restrictions were changed two years later, allowing for mainline service.
The new consolidated concourse opened in stages starting in 2013. The east end of the new concourse had to be completed and opened first, to shift capacity out of Southwest’s existing concourse and permit the demolition of the north end of the old concourse. This, in turn, allowed construction to begin on the west end of the new concourse, though the three gates on the south side of the west pier couldn’t be used until the old concourse was demolished, due to their close proximity to it. In order to minimize the ongoing impact of construction, these three gates were all assigned to carriers that would not need them until they were available. Two of the affected gates went to Virgin America, which could not begin service to Love Field until the restrictions were lifted, by which point the demolition of the old concourse was sufficiently advanced to allow access to the ramp. The remaining gate was one of two allocated to United, the operation of which only required the use of one gate, which was freely accessible, allowing them to relocate from the Legend terminal prior to its closure, leaving Delta and SeaPort Airlines (K5) as the only airlines operating from the minimalist facility. In addition to the airside improvements, both ends of the landside terminal were demolished and replaced with new facilities. The new ticket hall on the east end of the terminal opened first, more than doubling the amount of counter space for Southwest as well as providing space for new occupants Virgin America and United. The baggage claim hall on the west end of the terminal was the last section to be completed, just weeks before the end of the Wright restrictions, though not all of the back-end baggage handling systems were operational by then, causing significant delays for baggage delivery. The new baggage claim facility boasted four carousels, with additional provisions for up to two more should they become necessary in the future.
On October 13, 2014, the Wright Amendment’s distance restrictions officially came to an end, and Southwest Airlines began offering immediate nonstop service to six new cities, and to a further nine less than three weeks later. That same day, Virgin America moved its operation from DFW to Love Field and launched service to New York-LaGuardia and Washington-Reagan. Delta also relocated from the old Legend Airlines terminal to the consolidated one on that date, making temporary use of a Southwest gate, pending more permanent accommodations, and enabling the demolition of the Legend terminal in preparation for another parking structure. After a series of very public legal threats made against each other by all parties involved, a more permanent accommodation was found at an underutilized United gate.
Southwest has since launched service to a handful of additional cities, including all of its largest stations in the country. Virgin America has increased the frequency of its New York flights, added and then discontinued flights to Austin, and, most recently, added twice-daily service to Las Vegas. United has withdrawn from the airport, subleasing its two gates to Southwest and sparking a legal battle over the future of Delta’s service to the airport, which was dependent upon its own sublease, which Southwest has elected not to renew.
As this issue goes to press, the City of Dallas, Southwest Airlines, and Delta Air Lines have all sued one another and the cases are still pending in two federal courts.
THE FUTURE OF LOVE FIELD
For now, it is difficult to say how Love Field will fare over the next decade. Passenger numbers have exploded, far exceeding the city’s expectations and placing significant strain on airport infrastructure. This calls for additional parking facilities and provides an incentive to improve the airport’s connection to public transit. DART recently expanded its orange line to a new terminus at DFW Airport, and the same line serves Love Field via shuttle. The people-mover project would encourage passengers to take public transit to and from the airport, helping to alleviate the parking strain; however, so far, DART has not indicated an intention to seek new funding for the project.
The other major unknown is the future of the existing restrictions on the airport. Though these have changed, the Wright Amendment is still alive and well—now a capacity, rather than a gate, restriction. The way the Wright Amendment Reform Act sought to restrict capacity is problematic, though. While a slot restriction coming from the federal level would make sense, as slots are controlled by the FAA, the act specifically placed a restriction on the physical size of the airport terminal. However, as the airport is owned and operated by the City of Dallas, federal jurisdiction is questionable and probably wouldn’t withstand a court challenge. The Five Party Agreement, however, prevents both Southwest and the City of Dallas from bringing such a challenge, leaving only Delta and Virgin as possible plaintiffs. In an interview with Airways News, Virgin America CEO David Cush specifically ruled out such a challenge coming from Virgin, leaving Delta as the only candidate. Given Delta’s precarious position, it seems likely that this could be one of the arguments for remaining at Love Field, and it is unlikely that Southwest would object to such a challenge given their potential gain from additional gate capacity.
There is certainly room for expansion on the airport grounds, perhaps one that could return Love Field to its previous capacity of 30 to 32 gates. The site where the flight line currently sits would be perfect for a satellite concourse to serve multiple airlines. While a new terminal would be unlikely, given the way in which land has been allotted for new projects like parking facilities, a satellite would allow Southwest to use all 20 gates in the current concourse, the construction cost of which it largely paid. It would also provide room for Delta and Virgin America to remain and for other airlines that have expressed interest in the airport, including JetBlue and American, to also commence or resume service there.
Due to its convenient location and to the presence of hometown favorite Southwest Airlines, Love Field has long been the preferred air travel option for residents of Dallas. Never has this been truer than now, as the airport continues to make improvements to meet the needs of today’s traveler. Its legacy of innovation is alive and well, and we certainly have not seen the last of what Love Field has to offer.