Lawyers for Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and the city of Dallas argued about gate space at Dallas Love Field in federal court on Monday.
A three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals questioned the attorneys on why they should over turn a lower court’s temporary injunction that allows Delta to operate five daily flights at the Dallas airport using one of Southwest’s gates.
“The lease is unambiguous and explicit,” argued Southwest’s attorney Eric Pinker. “It states on multiple occasions that Southwest has priority for the use of those gates and has preference.”
At issue is gate space at Love Field, which is limited to 20 gates by the Wright Amendment Reform Act. Delta had been leasing gate space from United Airlines until the end of 2014, when United transferred its leases on two gates to Southwest for $120 million. The other two gates at Love Field are used by Virgin America.
Southwest and Delta had a temporary agreement allowing Delta to fly its five daily flights to Atlanta through last summer, but Southwest planned to kick Delta out after that so it could use the gates for new flights as the Dallas-based carrier began operating 180 daily flights at Love Field.
With both airlines claiming rights to gate space, the city of Dallas filed a lawsuit, asking the court to decide who should use the gates. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade granted a temporary injunction in January in Delta’s favor, allowing it to continue operations as the court case continued. In April, Southwest appealed the temporary injunction in federal court.
“We’ve offered to sign a sublease with Southwest,” Delta’s attorney Russel Falconer told the appeals panel. “Delta has also offered to sign a lease with the city.”
During Monday’s hearing, appeals judge Edith Jones was empathetic to the city of Dallas’ position and questioned whether Delta had any standing as a third party beneficiary to Southwest’s gate lease.
“The city of Dallas is like Pontius Pilate here,” judge Edith Jones said. “I don’t doubt that the pressure has been put on you by both sides.”
One of the appeals judges, Thomas Reavley, noted his affection for Southwest as he wrote the Texas Supreme Court’s decision that allowed Southwest to begin flight operations back in 1970.
“If I were not a judge, I would surely be for Southwest Airlines,” Reavley said. “I was the Supreme Court judge that saved the funding for the first three planes and Herb Kelleher will tell you if it hadn’t been for me there wouldn’t be any Southwest Airlines.”
However, Reavley noted that in looking at the briefs in the case, it appears the city of Dallas has already made the decision to allow Delta to continue operating at Love Field which was affirmed by the lower court’s decision.
The appeals panel can decide to either overturn the temporary injunction or let it stand, although there is no timetable for when the judges panel will rule on the appeal.