Delta Air Lines Flees Dallas Love Field: How Government Policy Cemented Southwest’s Monopoly

Southwest has a government-granted near monopoly at Dallas Love Field airport. The airline, which fought tooth and nail for the right to be allowed to fly there as an upstart, now uses government to keep out competition.

Dallas Love Field used to have 32 gates. Southwest, which is based there, worked with American Airlines to get Congress to eliminate 12 gates as part of the deal that dropped Wright Amendment restrictions. Southwest got Love Field all to itself, while American was happy to limit how much competition they’d face from the airport at their DFW headquarters.

Southwest controls 18 of the airport’s 20 gates. The other two are used by Alaska Airlines (Virgin America got it as a condition of government signoff on the American Airlines-US Airways merger) and Delta.

Delta had been using a former United Airlines gate. Southwest leased the United gates, leaving Delta with nowhere to fly from. Delta went to court and after several years won the right to a gate – with the city having to come out of pocket to help pay the rent for it.

But despite all these government efforts to ensure competition – redistributing gates, preserving space for Delta – the crux of the problem is government policy in the first place. They limited the number of gates at Love Field, helping to cartelize the airport, and the city destroyed gates. The old Legend Airlines Lemmon Avenue terminal is now a Lincoln dealership.

Alaska Airlines has scaled back flying from the airport, and now so has Delta.

There’s no way to build up a local customer base with just a single gate against Southwest’s 18. It won’t support Delta’s flying or Alaska’s. And it’s the government that destroyed competition.

Indeed, lack of competition in U.S. aviation is primarily a function of government policies limiting capacity and being captured by incumbent airlines. Gates are leased out long-term by government-owned airports. Slot-controlled airports have takeoff and landing rights given to incumbent airlines – as a valuable property right, for free – excluding new entrants. The Department of Justice tries to block consolidation in the industry, but all they’ve done is further blocked the creation of viable competitors to the existing largest players in a market. Our competition policy is why consumers have so little choice in air travel.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Delta plays games at ATL and other places. I kinda enjoy seeing them get screwed here.

  2. Biden stops JetBlue Spirit so he should open up Love Field. Many ways…executive order is one way. Splitting Love Field into 2, Love Field with one runway and Biden Field with other runway, Love Field can have 20 gates but Biden Field could have 6-30 gates.

  3. Delta has 7 flights/day scheduled to ATL this summer which I believe is the minimum for full gate usage at Love Field.

    Delta did not start LGA-DAL when the FAA asked airlines to reduce flights in NYC. I know it is complex but is it too hard to realize that it is hard to add new markets to LGA while also reducing the total number of flights and not cut service to sub-optimal levels in other markets?

    as is typical, Gary’s hyperbole is over the top – and inaccurate.

    Delta isn’t fleeing Love Field.

  4. Ahhh… Always fun to hear from Tim Dunn, who practically invented the form of written hyperbole ! I’ll demer, Gary’s column is well written and accurate as always. That said, it does seem odd that if he seems so terrible to you, why do you read his columns ?

  5. Are you suggesting that DFW based airlines don’t offer competition to Southwest at Love Field? Don’t forget, Southwest was the only airline among the “big 4” to post a 4th quarter loss.

  6. LUV is an interesting company. I think it’s the 3rd largest publicly traded airline, after Ryanair and DAL, and pays the biggest dividends to its shareholders, and I believe has the best 10 yr return after Ryanair. I would personally never fly on it because of the seating setup but an impressive company nonetheless.

  7. The article seems to put the lion’s share of blame on SW for the lack of competition. Having lived in Dallas for 40 years and watched this all play out I think that is a mischaracterization.

    American has always held sway with local politicians, especially with respect to Ft Worth. They have tried to stymie competition for DFW from Love for decades. None of the other airlines have had much appetite to fly out of Love, but they didn’t want to get too much competition from SW. So the compromise was to keep SW from flying from both airports, at least temporarily and severely scale back SW’s capacity. You also had wealthy neighbors who didn’t want Love to grow. Though many are happy to fly private there.
    I doubt SW would have any objection to doubling the number of gates and letting anyone fly out of Love. They could easily fill another 10 gates and increase competition in the Dallas Fort Worth market.

  8. Gary carefully chooses his words and his clickbaits. The reality is nuanced: without traffic, the drive between DFW and DAL is less than 20 minutes. In many instances, they are a single market. Let’s just pretend no.

  9. So many things left out here.

    1) The original agreement between Dallas & Fort Worth that allowed for the construction of a joint airport called for each cities independent airport TO BE CLOSED. Fort Worth closed it’s airport: Greater Southwest International Airport (GSW) in Fort Worth, Texas closed in 1974. Dallas was of course “Dallas” and lied and kept theirs open. LOVE Field shouldn’t even exist today. Period. Time and time again the agreement has been skirted. First to add states that border Texas. Then to add a few more states one by one. Now anywhere int he lower 48. Now they want to fly even more all around the US and elsewhere, even short haul international. It’s not fair or right. DFW was an investment made by the community and region and Dallas has does nothing but try to subvert that time and time again. It’s ridiculous. Fort Worth should approach Avelo or Allegiant or heck, even SouthWest and get them to fly from Meacham Airport or even Alliance (one of the busiest cargo airports in the world and now an Amazon Air Hub).

    2) Love Field is literally surrounded by skyscrapers, hospitals, and some of the wealthiest zip codes west of the Mississippi. NO ONE locally is asking for a major expansion at LOVE. Period.

    3) Alot of these airlines are waiting for the new terminal at DFW and for the expansion piers at older terminals as well. SW and DL and AS will be fighting for the new gates at DFW very soon.

    Really tired of this blog and others not mentioning ALL of the history here and only going back to last time the original agreement was broken/amended.

  10. of course it’s a single market and the airports are easier to get between than just about any two airports in the same metro area – FLL and MIA might tie in good traffic.

    Gary does good stuff some of the times and writes hyperbole some of the time.

    I like Gary and am happy to support what he does.

    Delta didn’t flee Love Field. With its own gate, it simply has to meet the gate usage requirement and can decide how it might want to use that gate in other ways in the future. Right now, its safest bet, to no one’s surprise, is lots of flights to the world’s largest hub.

  11. Tim – you are truly struggling with the idea that your baby DAL may have misstepped.

  12. @BenG while I don’t fundamentally disagree with what you said, I think you’re leaving out a couple of important points.
    As you point out, Fort Worth/Tarrant County has been more than happy to see Alliance field grow from nothing and siphon off massive amounts of freight traffic that would have otherwise have gone to DfW while all the while complaining about Dallas not living up to the deal.
    What’s more commercial service out of Meacham has been tried and fell flat in its face.
    If SW does begin a presence at DFW it will be because they are capacity constrained not because they have a great desire to be there.

  13. There were 5 parties that fought this war in the aughts:

    City of Dallas
    City of Fort Worth
    DFW Board

    Love Field could have easily been restored to it’s 1974 capacity of 70 gates, or rebuilt to 100+. And that was AMR’s fear and Fort Worth’s vendetta.

    There were “32” gates in the year 2000, in reality Southwest were running their operation using the 16 gates in the old American west terminal. A few of the mid concourse gates were used by Continental to fly to their hubs in Cleveland and IAH. And American’s Fokker Legend-killers. The “32” gates counted the north (Delta/Eastern/Frontier) concourse that was being used as offices, LUV training facilities and FBO stuff.

    The number 20 was not LUV’s doing to box out anyone else.

    It was the condition laid down by AA and Fort Worth for Southwest to get nationwide one-stops immediately and nationwide nonstops in 2014.

    Everything else written in this thread is scenery.

    And now, 20 years later, American is going to wind up with Southwest at their home field, because of the gate restrictions. This will then cause the City of Dallas to break the 2008 agreement and build another 40 gates at DAL.

  14. This article hit the nail on the head. The City of Dallas screwed this one up by destroying gates and giving Southwest a monopoly with only 20 total gates..they even renamed the street to Southwest founder Herb Kelleher. Love Field is a close in Dallas airport with two runways over 7,500 feet..ridiculous to keep it mostly general aviation.

  15. Delta IS fleeing Dallas after being big Cry Babies, they are getting the spanking they deserve.

  16. Another airport (like DCA) that exists only due to political corruption and should have been closed to commercial traffic a long time ago. Sad.

  17. The scum of Gary’s clickbait. Gayr can yo udefine flee to the group… I think we are all morons that need a vocabulary lesson.

  18. Some people are happy to see competition snuffed out, but the ones really getting screwed are the Texans who live in the DFW metroplex. Stuck with two subpar carriers dominating your airfields and with high airfares to boot. Enjoy.

  19. TWAviator is right, I live in Dallas and hate my lack of real choice when it comes to airlines and airfare. Fares are routinely higher than between other city pairs whenever I search.

    BenG, I live in Dallas just 2-3 miles from love field and am just under the flight path.
    1. I’d love to see commercial flights out of Alliance (and McKinney for that matter) Fort Worth should 100% make that happen.

    2. I’d LOVE a major expansion at Love Field. I just lack the power or influence so it’s pointless for me to ask for it as I’d be asking an empty room. There are a number of us who live in the area that would love an expansion as it would open up more and better options for flying around the country and world.

  20. Alan,
    do you or anyone else keep track of the cities that any other airline flies from other cities? Of course not.
    Delta, as a Texas outsider, fought the wink and handshake environment that has created the mess in N. Texas that stifles competition.
    It isn’t worth trying to argue who did what first but the reality is that Love Field is dominated by Southwest and they were happy to do all they could to keep EVERYONE out of Love Field if they could.
    Delta fought back, now has a gate of its own, and is free to schedule that gate to whatever cities it wants to fly – solely limited by the number of flights it operates from that gate.

    Delta can fill 7 flights/day from ATL to virtually anywhere in the US. For whatever reason, they decided the best use of their single gate at Love Field is all ATL flights – using the 717s that still bear AirTran registrations and on the planes which Southwest spent $1 million per plane to reconfigure for Delta use before Delta would take them.

    And the real loser in the Love Field debacle is American because WN is still keeping its 18 gates out of 20.
    AA had 2 gates at the time of the merger but the DOJ said that AA could not use them for years – in a period that ends next year. The DOT and DOJ tried to pick winners for the use of those 2 gates, they picked Virgin America which Alaska took over, and yet AS has been unable to consistently use those 2 gates from the day it acquired Virgin America.

    AA might have had 2 gates at its disposal in 2025 but will now only have 1 of those gates with Delta in the other.

    It will be quite the day to see AA back at Love Field using a gate next to DL, both in a sea of WN flights.
    in other words, not unlike Houston Hobby.

    WN might or might not have orchestrated this all but they have managed to come out on top at Love Field – and they are likely to show up at DFW.

    Delta just happens to have NOT left Love Field and won’t. The fact that all their flights will be to ATL just gives them the ability to schedule flights out of their gate in the same way that every other airline does at every other airport – where they get the best return on their investment.

  21. I would also say it is a mistake to compare HOU to DAL. Huge differences in catchment areas due to their relative locations to each other. Another difference is the neighborhood they reside in and their willingness to tolerate expansion..

  22. @BenG: My understanding was that Dallas was not required or expected to close Love Field as part of the agreement to build DFW. Rather, Dallas was expected at the time to use Love Field only as a general aviation airport with no airline service. Even if Southwest Airlines had never been founded, Love Field might still exist today albeit without scheduled airlines.

  23. Another one of Gary’s dramatic articles. As @Hagbard Celine stated above, there is a big part of this story that Gary has conveniently omitted from his article.

  24. Welp, Tim Dunn has doxed himself. He is a highly articulate high-functioning 14-year-old son of a Delta employee. He has no knowledge of Delta’s history as the #2 airline in North Texas in number of flights, destinations, pax, pilots, stews, mechs, and rez, from 1929 until 2004. He is not old enough to remember that Delta and United were inaugural gate holders when the new terminal opened in 2014. His spew about Big Evil Southwest (!) taking all the gates is hilarious in the context of Kelly’s ‘goldilocks’ comments about occupying HALF the new terminal.

    Tim, please, do us all a favor. Do your research before you type. We know you certainly weren’t around in 2014 to now speak with any authority gleaned from contemporary experience or context.


    Dallas Love Field to show off new terminal Tuesday

    Dallas Morning News

    Apr 15, 2013

    People who have traipsed through well-worn Dallas Love Field for decades are in for a shock Tuesday morning.

    A good shock.

    The city of Dallas and Southwest Airlines open up the first 11 gates of what eventually will be a new 20-gate terminal at the Dallas airport. It will remind passengers of nothing they’ve seen before at the venerable facility.
    They’ll enter into a bright, spacious facility with gleaming floors, high ceilings, eye-catching art and a big selection of restaurants and stores. The gate areas will have more room, with many more electrical and USB outlets to charge their cellphones and laptops.

    To describe it, Southwest chairman and chief executive Gary Kelly trotted out the Goldilocks analogy.
    “It’s not too little,” Kelly told guests at a grand-opening gala the night of April 8. “It’s not too big. It’s just right, and it’s also on time and on budget, and it is a remarkable asset for the city of Dallas. It will be a spectacular way to Dallas to welcome new visitors.”

    Born nearly seven years ago in a compromise over Love Field restrictions, the new terminal marks the beginning of the end of the long process of rebuilding the airport. Still to come are the last eight gates and a new baggage claim hall.

    But Tuesday’s opening gives a real idea of what the airport’s remaking is all about.

    The core of Love Field dates from 1958, when the city opened a new terminal to replace its old one on Lemmon Avenue. Southwest began life in 1971 at Love Field and stayed there when other airlines moved to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1974.
    The Wright amendment, a federal law enacted in February 1980, limited flights out of the airport as a way to protect the bigger Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. It meant that passengers could not fly beyond Texas and four adjoining states, either on direct or connecting flights.

    While other states were added in the 1990s and 2000s, the law remained intact with strong support from D/FW Airport, the city of Fort Worth and American Airlines Inc.

    But in November 2004, Kelly announced that Southwest would push hard for the law’s repeal. In June 2006, Southwest, American, the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas and D/FW, which is owned by the two cities, signed off on a compromise.

    One part stated that airlines still could not operate nonstop flights beyond the Wright amendment boundaries but could provide one-stop or connecting service to farther points. On Oct. 14, 2014, though, the Wright amendment limits go away and airlines can fly nonstop to any U.S. destination.

    The other part laid out a plan to replace Love Field’s facilities, including the construction of a 20-gate terminal, rebuilding of the main lobby, new halls for ticketing and baggage claims and other facilities.

    The budget was set at $519 million. Corgan Associates was hired to design the facility. Hensel Phelps Construction was picked as the general contractor. In 2009, work began.

    The project was named the Love Field Modernization Program, but that is a misnomer. It could have been called the Love Field Replacement Program.
    “At this end of this project, the only part of the old terminal building that remains will be the four walls of the main lobby,” said Bob Montgomery, Southwest’s vice president of airport affairs, who spearheaded the project.

    The west concourse, occupied by Southwest Airlines and now known as Terminal 2, will be torn down. So will Terminal 1, a temporary facility to the east that houses the gates of United Airlines and Delta Airlines, as those airlines move to the new terminal in October 2014.

    Last November, Southwest moved into its new ticketing and check-in hall to the right of the main lobby. The lobby itself has been rebuilt and the security checkpoint has been moved.

    The space where Southwest’s old ticketing counters sat have been replaced with a baggage claim area, to open this month. But that’s not the final solution.
    Over the next 1½ years, the old baggage claim area will be demolished and replaced.

    The revamp has been so complete that Kelly said it can’t be described simply as modernization.

    “This is a wonderful, beautiful and grand new airport,” he said at the gala. “This isn’t a remodel job. This is a brand new airport.”

    Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings agreed. “This is truly a rebuilding. Soon we’ll have the airport that sets us into the next 50 years.”
    So why didn’t construction crews build all 20 gates at once, rather than open 11 now and one more in July? They needed to get Southwest out of the way first.

    The last eight gates to be built will extend the terminal almost to the walls of the old west concourse. That new section can’t be built until the west concourse comes down.

    With Tuesday’s opening, Southwest will move out of its existing gates 5 through 15 in the west concourse and transfer almost all of its operations to the new terminal.

    The west concourse’s Gates 1 through 4, the gates closest to the main lobby, will stay active, Montgomery said, but not very.
    “They’ll really have minimal use. With our current schedule, we can fit almost everything in this new space, and we want our customers to be in the new space,” he said.

    Designers couldn’t just look at what the airline needed in the past, Montgomery said. They had to consider what will happen after the Wright amendment goes away.

    “You’ve got to remember that our traffic now is primarily short-haul out of Dallas,” Montgomery said.

    “Once we get out from under the Wright amendment in 2014, then we have opportunities to fly all over the country,” he said. “The stage length will increase, and that means that more people will check bags. More people will use the ticket counter. It’s really built for that.”
    As it stands now, the Love Field project has about another two years to go, with demolition cleanup and other work scheduled to continue past the terminal’s completion.

    “But all the hard stuff is done,” Montgomery said. “And I would say that right now we’re about 5 percent below budget.”

  25. Wow, it’s been over a week since Gary Leff re-posted his take on DAL and why it has only 20 gates, and how WN “got Congress” to limit gates for their own monopoly. I’m surprised it took so long, and even more surprised that he didn’t trot out his “Herb was in the room” nonsense.

    Again, for the hard of hearing (Gary), the limit on gates was on AA’s and DFW’s insistence OVER Southwest’s objections. Southwest never wanted gate limits, and still would have no problem with more gates. Unfortunately, that would require an act of Congress. Maybe everyone could lobby for THAT, …. but then again, it would leave Gary with one less column per week to write.

  26. That’s simply not a fair characterization, AA got a limit on how much competition could come from Love Field. Southwest got a monopoly at Love Field and got Wright Amendment restrictions on where they could fly sunset. Herb was in the room negotiating this.

  27. Herb was not involved and not in the room. Colleen Barrett and Gerard Arpey did the deal, brokered by Jeff Fegan and Kay Bailey. I read every inch of every column every day in the Dallas Morning News on this subject over 4 years, the equivalent of 10 full pages every week in the old newspaper format, culminating in the 2006 decision signed off on by the 5 parties I previously listed.

    The 2006 agreement led to the repeal of the Wright Amendment but IT WAS NOT UNITED STATES CONGRESSIONAL LEGISLATION. The terms of the deal were never debated in Congress.

    Southwest did not get a monopoly at Love Field. They already had competition at Love Field before the Wright reversal was negotiated.

    AA absolutely did limit competition at Love, but at the time, Southwest was able to operate from half the capacity of the new terminal with higher utilization of the new gates. In the 10 years since the new terminal opened, Alaska, Delta, Virgin & United have all had a go at the new terminal. Southwest has never had a monopoly.

    When the new terminal opened in 2014, Southwest leased only 16 of the 20 gates. Here’s what happened, which Gary actually reported accurately, on this very blog, 2 years ago:


    Seven Year Airline Drama At Dallas Love Field Settles With Government Subsidies For Delta

    by Gary Leff on June 23, 2022

    By law there are only 20 gates at Dallas Love Field. There used to be 32, but 12 were ordered eliminated. That was all part of a deal that,

    Lifted Wright Amendment restrictions on where flights could go from the airport
    Limited competition for American Airlines flights out of Dallas – Fort Worth
    And gave Southwest Airlines a stranglehold on the smaller airport

    Out of the airport’s 20 gates,

    Southwest Airlines leased 16
    United Airlines leased two. Delta was using one of those gates. But United got a better deal leasing them to Southwest, giving the Dallas-based carrier control of 18 gates
    American Airlines had two gates, but gave them up as a condition of government-approval for their US Airways merger. The gates went to Virgin America, and are now controlled by Alaska Airlines which acquired Virgin.

    All of this left Southwest with 18 gates, Alaska with 2, and Delta without a gate in the game of musical airport chairs. However the Department of Transportation said that the City of Dallas had to continue to accommodate Delta at Love Field even though it had no gates to do so, couldn’t legally build more, and Southwest had a valid lease for the gate Delta was using.

    The FAA threated to issue a determination that the City of Dallas was in noncompliance with its Federal grant obligations in the operation of Dallas Love Field, making them ineligible for FAA grant funds.

    Everyone wound up in Court. Just for kicks, American Airlines got involved to say they wanted gates at Love Field, too! (They didn’t really, they were basically trolling.) In the meantime Delta squatted on a Love Field gate half the time.

    After seven years there’s finally a settlement.

    Alaska Airlines doesn’t actually want to use two gates at Love Field
    So Delta will use one of them
    And the City of Dallas will kick in $200,000 a year to lease the gate for Delta through 2028

    Delta used to at least pretend to be against government subsidies for the airline industry, now they are vocally in favor.

    None of this would have been an issue if the federal government hadn’t limited the number of gates at Love Field, helping to cartelize the airport, and if the city hadn’t destroyed gates there would have been a greater chance of redress through Congress.

  28. Gary’s article from 2 years is ago is 99% factually correct.

    In the last paragraph, for avoidance of doubt, the US Government did not negotiate the limitation of 20 gates. That deal was negotiated and signed by the 5 parties previously listed:

    City of Dallas
    City of Fort Worth
    DFW Airport

    The terms were never debated or negotiated as part of parliamentary procedure followed by legislation in Congress.

    I predict the City of Dallas will break ranks and triple gates at Love Field after Southwest opens operations at DFW.

  29. hagbard,
    you did a pretty good job other than your attempts to denigrate me.
    Nowhere did I ever say that Delta didn’t have a large presence in N. Texas.

    Delta is STILL the 2nd largest airline at both DFW and Love Field. They just don’t carry tons of connecting passengers through DFW.

    Delta wasn’t a party to the 5 party agreement and is the ONLY party that was willing to push its way into Love Field after the DOJ and DOT basically gave WN the green light to dominate it because everyone knew that Virgin America and Alaska were incapable of standing up to WN.

    Delta never controlled any gates at the current Love Field terminal. It leased first from other airlines including United which had no interest in continuing to serve Love Field.

    and I don’t see the point of the endless arguing about how the past in N. Texas all happened; I would be far more interested in hearing ANY of you tell us how you believe this will all end esp. between now and 2029 when all of Love Field’s gate leases come up for renewal.

    And, I don’t think it is remotely possible for Dallas to expand the terminal at Love Field in the future. And WN doesn’t want to have to fight another battle to maintain its dominance which it now has.

  30. Wow….sparks are flying with this DAL discussion!!!!

    As for Delta….a gate in hand is worth more than a gaggle of attorneys in a court room filing expensive briefs in front of a Biden judge.
    Delta will sit on this gate as long as possible just to irritate Southwest.

  31. I only opened this article to see if anyone commented on the bizarre AI art that shows a gigantic plane parked on top of a building with its wings somehow overhanging the neighboring two buildings.

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