Virgin America has little love right now for Love Field.
Doing business at the Dallas airport has posed a struggle for the airline since it moved there from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport last fall. Love has 20 gates, and Southwest controls 18. Virgin America hasn’t figured out how to launch enough flights from its two gates.
“It’s an unrealistic expectation that airlines can get 10 flights a day on a gate,” Virgin America CEO David Cush said in an interview.
He has bashed Love Field all summer, telling Bloomberg News that it’s worse than New York’s reviled LaGuardia Airport for on-time departures. The goal of 10 departures was ambitious for the young airline, which runs seven or eight flights from its gates in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the airports where it offers the most service.
In response to the Dallas crunch, Cush hinted strongly that Virgin America will scrap its four daily flights from Austin to Dallas to help remedy the problem.
“Maybe Austin is not the best use of gates,” Cush said at the annual Boyd Group aviation forecast conference in Las Vegas this week. The airline would not confirm its plans.
American Airlines and Southwest fly that route as well, so pricing “also went to hell” after Virgin America embarked on Austin-Dallas trips in April, Cush said.
Ending those flights would help Virgin America reduce the gate congestion. Virgin began the intra-Texas flights to help provide connecting traffic for its new routes from Dallas to New York and Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C.
About 25 percent of traffic on Dallas routes is fed by the Austin flights, said Cush, although the Love Field routes don’t require that traffic to work financially. Three of the five most affluent ZIP codes in Texas surround Love Field, and the CEO described strong demand for flights.
But interest from travelers has been fueled in part by bargains that sprouted once Love Field opened to flights nationwide in October, with the expiration of the Wright Amendment.
Southwest built an expansive schedule from Love Field, while American has aggressively matched the low fares at DFW. Fares from Dallas to New York, for example, have dipped as low as $41 each way. Fares in other markets far from Texas have also been affected because of the ability to connect in Dallas.
Analysts and Cush expect the bargains to abate in early 2016 as pricing firms up. “As much as the Dallas market has disrupted the rest of the nation, between the two of them [American and Southwest] they’re going to sort things out,” Cush said.