Judge right on Delta, wrong on Love Field


Delta, Southwest jets taxi at Dallas Love Field.
Delta, Southwest jets taxi at Dallas Love Field. Dallas Morning News

Dallas leaders had eight years to refine how they would control growth at Love Field before Wright Amendment restrictions went away in 2014.

Now federal District Judge Ed Kinkeade, in a preliminary ruling in a suit involving the city, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and others, has said the city failed to meet that obligation.

In a Friday ruling, Kinkeade also stated his opinion that the only way to proceed now is for Dallas to abandon the agreement it signed in 2006 limiting Love Field to 20 passenger gates.

Dallas made a promise, and now a judge says it should abandon that promise.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise in Fort Worth. The Wright Amendment restrictions, limiting Love Field flights to states surrounding Texas, happened because Dallas wouldn’t take control of its home airport even after it partnered with Fort Worth to build a bigger, better one.

Still, what Kinkeade said was a disappointment. It should be even more so to Dallas residents around Love Field, who pushed hard for growth restrictions.

Kinkeade is wrong when he says Love Field should be allowed to grow. Dallas should resolve to appropriately limit the airport’s growth as it promised almost a decade ago.

In 2014, Delta started a procedure outlined in the 2006 agreement, seeking to solidify its ability to use Love Field gates for five flights a day to Atlanta.

Southwest’s founder, Herb Kelleher, had testified in Congress that the 2006 procedure was well understood and fair. But Southwest refused to honor it in Delta’s case.

In that case, the 2006 agreement said Dallas would designate which gates it could use. Twice, the federal Department of Transportation told Dallas it had to accommodate a request like Delta’s.

But Dallas could not bring itself to tell Southwest, which controlled 16 and eventually 18 of the 20 gates, to yield space. As Kinkeade put it, “essentially the City is asking this Court to ‘Please tell us what to do.’”

The city asked for a ruling favoring Delta, a ruling favoring Southwest, or something in the middle. Kinkeade favored Delta, at least until the parties reach an agreement or the case comes to a full trial.

Laura Miller was the Dallas mayor who signed the 2006 agreement. Kinkeade noted that she testified to a congressional subcommittee that “we should, if we are responsible, create a very clear policy using this [agreement] as the template for how we are in real terms going to be executing this.”

Dallas didn’t do that, and it would not stand up to Southwest. Kinkeade did, but he also raised real questions about Love Field’s future.