DALLAS — Borrowing a tactic from Southwest Airlines’ playbook, Virgin America is asking the city of Dallas to “free Love Field and make it a fare fight.”The San Francisco-based carrier launched a change.org petition over the weekend to support its campaign to win the right to use two gates at Dallas Love Field that American Airlines is being forced to divest as part of its antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.“Tell the City of Dallas leaders you think there’s room for a little healthy competition at Love,” says the petition, which had more than 21,000 supporters as of Monday evening.The Virgin America campaign is similar to Southwest’s “Set LUV Free” billboards that the airline used to garner support from the public to pressure regional leaders to allow repeal of Wright Amendment restrictions that have prevented long-haul domestic flights at the city-owned airport. Those restrictions will expire in October.The carrier also brought its jet-setting founder, Sir Richard Branson, to Dallas for a Cinco de Mayo party Monday evening intended to rally customers who want Virgin’s service to start at Love Field. Southwest is “90 percent of the traffic out of Love Field, and all we’re asking for is 10 percent. Ten percent of Love,” Branson said to a crowd of supporters at the Rustic bar and restaurant. “When you have choice, fares come down.”Branson then downed a shot of tequila with Virgin America CEO David Cush and crowd-surfed briefly.Virgin America announced two weeks ago that it had signed a lease transfer agreement with American that had been approved by the Justice Department. American has said that Virgin America was the only airline approved by the Justice Department for the Love Field gates.The carrier started selling tickets for 18 daily flights to begin in October from Love to five cities — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — even though the city of Dallas has yet to approve the transfer. Virgin America has been flying six flights a day to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport since 2010 and would end that service if it wins the Love Field gatres.Southwest and Delta Air Lines are also vying for the two gates, and a consultant study submitted to the Dallas City Council suggested that the city’s residents would be better served if Southwest gained control of them. Virgin America says Southwest should not receive the gates since it already controls 16 of the 20 gates at Love Field and 90 percent of the traffic.On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council will be briefed on the Love Field gate situation, but no decision is expected to be made. Currently, American subleases its two gates to Delta Air Lines and Seaport Airlines.
Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631 Twitter: @Sky_Talk