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Dallas files lawsuit to clarify Southwest-Delta gate issue at Love Field

The city of Dallas has filed a suit in federal court asking for help in a gate dispute between Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines at Dallas Love Field.
The city of Dallas has filed a suit in federal court asking for help in a gate dispute between Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines at Dallas Love Field. Star-Telegram archives

The city of Dallas is asking a federal judge to help it sort out whether or not Delta Air Lines should be allowed to continue using a gate at Dallas Love Field.

At issue is the scramble for gates at Love Field, which has seen a tremendous boost in passenger traffic since the Wright Amendment restrictions were repealed in late 2014. Delta Air Lines has been trying to secure access to a gate there to keep operating five daily flights to Atlanta, only to be told it must be out next month.

Southwest Airlines, which controls leases on 18 of the airport’s 20 gates, is planning to expand service from Love Aug. 9 and says it won’t be able to accommodate any Delta flights from its gates beyond July 6, when, it says, Delta’s temporary license on a gate will expire.

“This lawsuit will allow all of the interested parties to put forth their positions in a structured setting so that the federal court can properly weigh their rights and obligations and thereafter allocate the gates in accordance with the law,” said Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst in a statement.

Southwest Airlines expanded its gates at Love to 18 after gaining access to two gates formerly controlled by United Airlines.

Two gates formerly controlled by American Airlines are held by Virgin America. Seaport Airlines, a small regional carrier, also has an agreement with Southwest to use a gate to operate a small number of flights.

The city’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday, seeks a declaratory judgment. Dallas contends that its Wright Amendment compromise agreement signed in 2006 with the city of Fort Worth, DFW Airport, Southwest and American Airlines takes precedence over any directives from the federal government and other airlines asking to use gates at Love Field.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, however, believes that the city is responsible for deciding whether or not Southwest must allow Delta to use some of its gate space for its service to Atlanta, according to a letter sent to the city of Dallas on June 15.

“Two days ago, in a letter to the city, DOT confirmed Delta’s right under federal law to serve Love Field indefinitely with its five existing flights, and also confirmed that the city has an obligation to accommodate the eight additional flights which Delta has requested, if there was gate space available on Feb. 23, the date of the filing,” said Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter.

In a statement, Southwest said it disagrees with the DOT’s position, saying it “not only violates Southwest’s legal and contractual rights but would also reduce competition, costing consumers millions of dollars in higher airfares.”

The airline said its contractual agreements with the city of Dallas “clearly give Southwest the right to expand upon and maximize the usage of its leased gates in the best interest of the citizens of Dallas.”

In its lawsuit, the city also expressed concern that whatever decision it makes about the gate space, it could still face litigation from the airlines and the federal government.

“In short, the City needs judicial intervention to understand and perform its legal obligations and rights so it can move forward with management of its Love Field airport in a legal manner in the best interest of the flying public and the residents of the City of Dallas,” the lawsuit states.

“Absent direction and declaratory relief from this Court, that would be impossible.”

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

Twitter: @Sky_Talk

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