Oct. 13--DALLAS -- Southwest Airlines is ready to celebrate its first minute of freedom from the Wright Amendment at Dallas Love Field, even though it's a year away.
The Dallas-based airline is unveiling a countdown clock today at its headquarters, reminding employees, passengers and North Texans that starting on Oct. 13, 2014, it will be able to fly nonstop anywhere in the U.S. from its Love Field home.
"We are going to start telling people exactly what this means, in terms of providing nonstop Love to the people of North Texas," Executive Vice President Ron Ricks said. "We want North Texas to be as excited about it as we are."
When the compromise agreement was signed in 2006, eight years seemed like a long time to wait for the travel restrictions to be lifted at Love Field. The long-negotiated delay was meant to give Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and its main tenant, American Airlines, time to prepare for the big change.
But in those eight years, the airline industry has changed dramatically as several carriers have merged -- including Southwest, which bought AirTran Airways. Both Love Field and DFW have also undertaken expensive terminal renovations to make traveling in and out of the Metroplex more customer-friendly.
As a result, industry analysts don't expect the end of Wright Amendment restrictions to dramatically affect air travel for travelers in the Metroplex, aside from new competition on selected routes.
"It's an opportunity for Southwest, but it's not a sea change in travel patterns in the Metroplex," aviation consultant Michael Boyd said.
Restrictions to be lifted
Since the enactment of the Wright Amendment in 1979, nonstop flights out of Love Field were limited to only a handful of states. Local politicians said the restrictions were put in place to maintain a financially healthy DFW Airport.
But in 2004, Southwest began a public campaign to change those restrictions, saying it was time to "set LUV free." DFW Airport and its supporters countered with a "keep DFW strong" campaign.
It took several months of negotiations among both airports, Southwest, American and the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth to hammer out a compromise. In 2006, the deal was approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush.
"Lifting the Wright Amendment restrictions will only mean more choices for the traveling public, and that can only be a good thing," said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was not mayor when the compromise was reached.
The agreement allows for long-haul flights out of Love Field starting in 2014, while limiting the airport to 20 gates and prohibiting international flights.
It also immediately permitted airlines, primarily Southwest, to begin selling tickets to connecting destinations outside of the Wright restrictions. For example, a consumer could buy a ticket to Los Angeles from Love Field that included a stop in Albuquerque.
Currently, nonstop flights can be offered from Love Field to cities in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Alabama. But with so-called through-ticketing, Southwest has been able to offer one-stop service to other destinations including Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando, Fla., for several years.
With the restrictions dropping next year, those destinations could see nonstop service from Love Field.
"Dallas-Fort Worth needs and will support multiple airports," said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who was also not in office when the compromise was reached. "We are a big market and I think new travel options for Dallas-Fort Worth citizens is a very positive thing."
The effect for Southwest
Southwest has been waiting for years to fly long-haul flights out of Love Field. And now that it will have that ability, the airline is being coy about its plans.
"We're not sure what we're going to do yet because it depends on demand," Ricks said.