With Virgin America minority investor Sir Richard Branson as the head cheerleader, much of Dallas is being stirred into a frenzy to “free Love Field” and let little guy Virgin take on Goliath Southwest Airlines at the city’s central airport.
How ironic: Southwest has held to a little guy image for decades.
The fight is over two gates that American Airlines has volunteered to give up at Love Field to placate the Justice Department and gain approval for its merger with US Airways. The merger is done but for the next few months of working out integration details, and the Love Field gates are but a fly speck on the big merger picture.
From the western side of the Metroplex, the Love Field tangle would only be entertainment on the scale of a Saturday night pro wrestling match but for the ugly memories of Dallas-Fort Worth battles over the Wright Amendment.
For those who are new here, Congress passed the Wright Amendment in 1979 to rein in Love Field. Scrappy Southwest had started operations there in 1971, refusing to join other airlines in moving to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
A couple of uneasy decades after the federal restrictions went in place, Southwest said it wanted to break out and fly non-stop to destinations forbidden by the Wright Amendment.
In 2006 the two big cities, along with Southwest, American and DFW signed a historic agreement under which the Wright restrictions will go away later this year. Dallas agreed to limit Love Field on its own.
What makes the current gate fight a serious issue 30 miles to the west is not which airline gets the gates — Southwest wants them, Virgin America wants them and Delta Air Lines wants them.
It’s that the Justice Department asserts the right to decide and is trying to bully the Dallas City Council into agreeing on Virgin.
Council members are scheduled to receive a briefing on the issue at their regular Wednesday meeting. They may end up agreeing on Virgin, and that’s fine — although Southwest is casting itself as the hometown hero.
Justice wants the council to step aside and let the decision fall into the lap of City Manager A.C. Gonzalez.
From over here, it would instill more confidence to see the Dallas council itself step up and control its airport, like the city promised in 2006.