Billboards along Mockingbird Lane proclaimed “NYC You Soon” and “LAXOXO” as Southwest Airlines on Monday announced 15 new cities where it will fly nonstop from Dallas Love Field once the Wright Amendment goes away in October.
“We are very, very excited,” said Southwest’s chief executive Gary Kelly at a press conference at the Dallas airport. “We’ll be free to serve all of the continental United States and all right here in the heart of Dallas. These new nonstops are going to bring very real competition to North Texas.”
The new destinations are: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago Midway, Denver, New York LaGuardia, Washington Reagan, Las Vegas, Orlando, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Orange County and Tampa.
Kelly said five of the routes would begin on Oct. 13, and the other ten on Nov. 2. Kelly called it Southwest’s birthday present to the city of Dallas, which celebrated its 158th birthday as an incorporated city on Sunday.
The Wright Amendment, which has limited direct flights to cities in Texas and several nearby states since 1979, has kept the carrier from flying nationwide from the airport closest to downtown Dallas. A compromise struck between Fort Worth, Dallas, Southwest, American Airlines and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in 2006 paved the way for flights to any city in the 48 continental states later this year, but also limits Love Field to 20 gates and no international service.
Southwest’s founder Herb Kelleher, former Southwest President Colleen Barrett, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who helped steer the Wright Amendment compromise through Congress, were on hand to celebrate Southwest’s announcement. Cupcakes with the new destinations written in frosting on top were passed out to passengers and employees at Love Field.
“It just proves being patient pays off,” Kelleher said. “For me, Love Field has been the Super Bowl of airport controversies, I think, for the last 30 or 40 years, battling it out. But it’s finally behind us.”
With the new flights, Kelly said the airline will have about 140 daily flights out of Love Field later this year. The number of daily flights to each new destination and introductory fares will be revealed in May when tickets go on sale to the public.
“You will have lower fares and a lot more competition here in North Texas,” Kelly said. “It will be very good for the community, no question.”
The new flights out of Love Field will use about 14 to 15 additional aircraft. However, Kelly said the airline is not planning to add planes to its fleet for the expansion. Instead, it will utilize aircraft already in its network and shift the planes from other less-profitable routes.
Kelly said the carrier will continue to fly to all of its current destinations out of Love Field, but some cities will see a reduction in the number of daily flights. Southwest currently flies about 120 daily flights out of Love to destinations like Houston, New Orleans, Albuquerque and San Antonio. Eventually, that could expand to as many as 160 daily flights, he added.
With the geographic restrictions lifting in October, industry analysts had expected Southwest to add flights to some of its busier airports. However, some were surprised that there were no flights to the San Francisco Bay area or Boston.
“I think they want to and need to be careful about making sure they don’t build up Dallas and unintentionally do harm elsewhere [in their network],” said Hudson Crossing analyst Henry Harteveldt. “The good news is that all of these flights will be ready for the Thanksgiving and winter holiday travel which will be great for leisure travelers.”
On its fourth-quarter earnings call last week, Southwest executives told investors that Wright Amendment revenue — reflecting sales from so-called “through tickets” to distant cities from Love, permitted under the Wright changes — contributed $75 million to its revenues in the fourth quarter and about $300 million for the full year.
Shares of Southwest [ticker: LUV] declined slightly on Monday, down 52 cents to close at $20.43.
Delta Air Lines announced last year that it plans to add 18 daily nonstop flights from Love Field to New York LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul in October. Delta currently uses gates that it leases from American Airlines. However, American is required to give up those gates as part of its antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and it is unclear which airline will be able to buy the gates.
Southwest has also expressed interest in the American gates at Love Field. On Monday, Kelly said the process to auction off those gates has not yet begun.