Southwest CEO says demand is strong for new Love Field flights

With one week until the Wright Amendment restrictions are lifted at Dallas Love Field, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly is excited about adding 15 nonstop destinations for its Dallas customers.

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by YTexas at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, Kelly said advance bookings for long-haul flights out of Love Field are running ahead of what the Dallas-based carrier had expected. Starting Monday, carriers can fly direct anywhere in the U.S. out of Love Field, where flights have been restricted for years to destinations in Texas and a handful of other states.

“I’m very confident that the demand will far exceed the capacity of the airport,” Kelly said.

He also discussed the agreement Southwest has with United Airlines to possibly use one of the two Love Field gates United leases from the city of Dallas.

“We won’t be scheduling flights off the United gates,” Kelly said. “It will just be overflow on an as-needed basis.”

For example, on days when severe weather may delay flights, Southwest has permission to use one of United’s gates to load passengers on or off an aircraft, he said.

Southwest has leases for 16 of the 20 gates at Love Field, while United holds the lease for two. The other two will be leased by Virgin America, which obtained the gates from American Airlines, which divested them to win government approval of its merger with US Airways.

Delta Air Lines, which had been using one of American’s gates, has been asked by the city to suspend operations at Love Field since Delta was unable to come to a sublease agreement with either Virgin or United.

The Wright Amendment compromise agreement reached in 2006 and passed by Congress allows carriers to fly out of Love Field to any destination in the U.S. starting Oct. 13. However, international flights remain restricted and the airport can only operate 20 gates.

“The law could change,” Kelly said, referring to the 20-gate capacity limit. “I’m not going to be the one to pursue that and I don’t know anyone will.”