Earlier this year, Southwest Airlines announced a significant number of new direct flights originating from their home base of Dallas Love Field. The newly-announced flights will provide non-stop service to places such as New York, Los Angeles, Denver, and Atlanta.
But why is Southwest, which has been in business since 1971, just now adding these seemingly universal routes to its network? To answer that question, we’ll have to go back in time and brush up on our Dallas-area airport history.
Prior to the opening of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in 1974, the two cities had a history of contentious competition and missed opportunities. The first was a proposed joint airport way back in 1927. Fort Worth declined the proposal, opting to purchase and operate its own airport independent of Dallas. This led Dallas to build its own airport as well. The end result was the opening of both Love Field (in Dallas) and Meacham Field (in Fort Worth) to commercial air traffic.
In 1940, there was another attempt to cooperate in the construction of a regional airport for both cities, but it was eventually abandoned after neither city could agree on the location or details of the airport. This was followed by the creation of Amon Carter Field, later renamed to Greater Southwest International Airport (GSW), which was barely a stone’s throw away from Love Field.
Finally, in the early sixties, the FAA made it clear to the two cities that it wouldn’t invest any additional money into separate Dallas and Fort Worth airports (quick geography note – downtown Dallas is roughly 30 miles from downtown Fort Worth). This, along with a directive from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), finally pushed Dallas and Fort Worth together in an effort to develop a single large airport to serve the entire metroplex.
Thus, DFW was born.
In an effort to make the new airport viable and promote growth, all airlines serving Dallas Love Field and Greater Southwest International Airport signed an agreement to relocate to the newly constructed DFW. In addition, the two cities agreed to begin restricting commercial operations at their old airports.
Southwest Airlines was founded shortly after this relocation agreement and, after a court battle, was granted permission to remain at Love Field. The primary reason that this was allowed can be traced to the fact that Southwest initially offered only intra-state flights, and CAB regulations were applicable only to interstate flights.
Eventually, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 phased out the CAB’s ability to regulate many aspects of commercial aviation, and paved the way for Southwest to begin operating interstate flights. Needless to say, the City of Fort Worth and the governing board of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport were not pleased with Southwest’s plans. Their fear was that a growing Southwest, operating out of Dallas Love Field, would pull passengers from DFW.
This is when Jim Wright, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Fort Worth, got involved. Seeing how much money had gone into creating DFW (and, likely, feeling the pressure of his political donors and constituents) he devised a way to protect the investment of resources in DFW.
In 1979, Wright sponsored an amendment to the International Air Transportation Act that limited commercial operations out of Dallas Love Field to airports within Texas and the four neighboring states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
Now, it may be a little easier to see the significance of Southwest’s recent announcement of non-stop service from Dallas to places like LAX and LGA.
The Wright Amendment was amended a few times over the years to allow for non-stop flights from Dallas Love Field to places like Alabama and Kansas, but remained largely intact until 2006, when a compromise deal was drafted and passed in Congress which, among other things, lifted the ban on nonstop flights outside of the “Wright zone” – effective October 13th, 2014.
That is why the announcement of new routes from Dallas Love Field is more noteworthy than usual. On October 13th, as the restrictions of the Wright Amendment fade into history, Southwest will begin nonstop service to Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Chicago Midway.
Then, on November 2nd, they will add additional direct flights to Atlanta, NYC (LaGuardia), Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville, Phoenix, Washington (Reagan), San Diego, Tampa, and Orange County, CA.
But Southwest’s route expansion doesn’t end there.
It is old news now, but you may recall that American Airlines and US Airways have officially merged, creating the world’s largest airline. As part of the process, the merging airlines had to sell off dozens of their Washington DCA slots (an airport slot is the right, granted to an airline by an airport, to schedule a landing or departure during a specific time period).
Guess who purchased quite a few of those slots? That’s right; Southwest gained 54 slots at Reagan National and is busy allocating them to flights throughout the central and eastern US.
As a result, in addition to the post-Wright Amendment routes we’ve already detailed, Southwest will soon begin service from Washington D.C. to Akron/Canton, Chicago-Midway, Dallas–Love, Fort Myers, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, and Tampa.
Some of those flights begin in mid-August, with the rest commencing by early November. In all, Southwest expects to be operating 44 daily flights at DCA (up from 17, currently), serving a total of 14 nonstop destinations. That’s quite a boost, to say the least.
It’s an exciting time if you’re a fan of Southwest. With the expiration of the Wright Amendment and the acquisition of numerous DCA slots, the airline is seeing significant growth within its network. In 2013, Southwest was 4th in carried passengers of any airline in the world, and it looks like they want to continue that growth.
So, keep an eye out for some canyon blue and orange aluminum leaving contrails in new directions very soon.
This story was written by John Cameron for AirlineReporter.