Delta, Alaska Airlines Getting Killed At Dallas Love Field Thanks To Government Monopoly Given To Southwest

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, and now uses the machinations of government to keep out competitors.

And with only two gates at the airport available for use by anyone else, Enilria reports that no one else is really able to make flights there work. They can’t build a local customer base. Alaska Airlines is pulling down to just one to two flights per day out of the gate they control. And that leaves only Delta, from its single gate number 11, against Southwest operating from 18 different gates at the airport.

  • Did you know that Dallas Love Field used to have 32 gates, and Southwest got Congress to eliminate 12 gates there? Now Southwest has 18 of the airport’s 20 gates.

  • That was part of the deal that lifted all Wright Amendment restrictions on where flights could go from the airport. Southwest got a monopoly at Love Field, but the total flying from that airport wouldn’t be as big of a challenge to American Airlines dominance at Dallas – Fort Worth.

Southwest had leases for 16 gates. United Airlines leased two, one of which had been subleased to Delta. Southwest cut a deal with United to get those two for itself, leaving Delta out in the cold.

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.

That left Southwest with 18 gates, Alaska with 2, and Delta without a gate. 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.

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. In the end,

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

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.

They actually used eminent domain to take the old Legend Airlines terminal at Love Field. And – since the gates could no longer be used, given the cap on gates passed by Congress – they didn’t even pay for take the terminal since it was considered to have no economic value. They cancelled the lease and it got turned into a Lincoln dealership.

Enilria says “Alaska, Delta Getting Slaughtered at Dallas DAL” and how could they not be. The situation, “America’s biggest monopoly” is called “a capitalistic tragedy and embarrassment.” But it’s entirely government’s doing, not the free market. The farce here is complaining about airline competition when the lack of competition is almost exclusively the result of government policy.

Air traffic control is limited by FAA capacity. 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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. The issue is the gate cap. That’s what should be challenged in court.
    AS is getting killed because they can’t seem to run a consistent schedule from there…they change/add/delete flights monthly. When I lived nearby and routinely flew AS out of DAL, it was a Sunday morning ritual for me to refresh all my AS flights on the app and then call AS because they had literally changed EVERY SINGLE ONE of my upcoming flights out of Love Field.
    DL is getting killed because they’re the world’s #1 premium airline.

  2. No more gates at Love for commercial airlines. We need the runway for private aviation. I live in HP and it’s a super short hop to one of the FBOs.

  3. As someone with the hot take that Southwest was rentseeking with its Love Field squatting from Day One, I really wish the airport was demolished after DFW opened.

    Highly reccomend reading that Gary Kennedy book. Had a good chapter on this.

  4. Yes, Hal, the rich taxpayers of Dallas should subsidize the poor folks in HP. It the only fair thing to do.

  5. as is typical, enilria comes up w/ half-baked conclusions based on incomplete data.
    He said in the article that he WAS an avgeek and he wrote a letter arguing against the gate cap at Love Field. His arguments THEN were correct. Strangely, he was more accurate than he is now (apparently post-avgeek).

    First, many people argue that WN is a marketing company that happens to fly planes. In reality, they are a law firm that happens to use their airline as the basis to sue the heck out of anyone – and they have largely been successful

    Denver learned for Dallas’ failure in not bulldozing the runways at Love Field when DFW was opened but Love field has always been a thriving general aviation and bizjet airport. They just couldn’t keep Southwest out because WN didn’t exist as an airline at the time all of the incumbents at Love Field signed documents agreeing to move to DFW when it opened.

    Left out of the article is that the DOJ and DOT jumped into the AA-US merger and wanted to FORCE open N. Texas aviation which Congress enshrined as part of the Wright amendment and they did so by saying that an incumbent airline could not have the gates which they required AA to divest from Love Field in order to get the merger approved. They had similar divestiture requirements in other airports.

    Alaska was chosen even though they already had a presence at DFW. They have tried a half dozen markets and clearly haven’t been able to make any of them work even though many have been operating with E 175s.

    Delta fought the city for excluding it based on federal law, a district judge agreed, the case went to federal appeals court which also favored Delta and then years of negotiations took place.

    When Alaska failed to use its two gates based on the gate usage requirement at Love Field, Delta agreed to settle for one gate of its own. They have recently occupied that gate and added LAX service to its long-running Atlanta service. They are largely using A319s instead of the 717s which still bear AirTran’s registration numbers.

    DL said it would start LGA but specifically noted it would start no new routes from LGA as long as the NYC flight caps are in effect due to FAA ATC staffing.

    DL is running 2 flights/day to LAX and 3 day during the summer and 3x/day to ATL and 5 to ATL. Love Field defines 9 flights/day as full gate utilization. AS wasn’t even using its gates 5 x/day.

    And given that enilria managed to pull average fare data to come up w/ some of his half-baked conclusions about SEA, you would think he would have done the same about Love Field – but he didn’t or at least didn’t put them in his article.

    In fact, DL gets a hefty fare premium to WN on the routes it serves from Love Field – not surprising given the difference in the two’s business models.
    Load factor data for each carrier – AS, DL and WN – would be helpful.

    Absent real data, his article looks like just another hobby horse avgeek opinion peace that should be backed up w/ complete data which he presents – but that didn’t happen.

  6. A sensationalist piece of the worst kind. Completely leaves out the fact that prior to the wright amendment being partially lifted (it has not fully been revoked), the government purposefully handicapped southwest at love field…at the behest of other airlines (ie, AA, DL). They still do…no international service, gate caps, swa not allowed to serve DFW without crippling gate exchanges, etc…

    But this entire article was, at best, sensationalist, and misses on all the important nuances of what is happening at love field.

  7. @Steve Delta is by no means anywhere close to being the #1 premium airline in the world. They are satisfactory based on US standards, which is a very low bar and getting lower as time progresses…

  8. @Axel F – I have written extensively on the way airlines used government to hold back Southwest. But that’s my point. Southwest went from underdog fighting entrenched interests to the opposite.

  9. @Tim Dunn – your history is wrong here.

    “Left out of the article is that the DOJ and DOT jumped into the AA-US merger and wanted to FORCE open N. Texas aviation which Congress enshrined as part of the Wright amendment and they did so by saying that an incumbent airline could not have the gates which they required AA to divest from Love Field in order to get the merger approved. They had similar divestiture requirements in other airports.”

    Left out of the article? I talked about AA having to abdicated at DAL in favor of Virgin America as part of getting its US deal approved.

    “Alaska was chosen even though they already had a presence at DFW. ”

    Nope, Virgin America was chosen. Alaska acquired DAL, which is why they got the Virgin America DAL gates.

    “Delta fought the city for excluding it based on federal law, a district judge agreed, the case went to federal appeals court which also favored Delta and then years of negotiations took place.”

    I cover this in the post. And have written extensively on it. It’s messy! Delta couldn’t be ‘forced out’ even without a gate lease. And the airport couldn’t add gates because a federal law reduced the number of allowable gates at the airport. Not only does Delta now get one of the Alaska gates, but the City of Dallas has to kick in towards the lease payment!

    “In fact, DL gets a hefty fare premium to WN on the routes it serves from Love Field –” it would be pretty egregious if an airline selling first class and extra legroom seating is unable to earn a fare premium on comparable routes over one that does not.

  10. The worst kind of revisionist history possible. The major airlines, through the Wright amendment, tried to kill SWA in the name of promoting DFW at LUV’s expense. It didn’t work and now the majors cry into their beer about how unfair it all was. Bullsh-t; they bet on the wrong horse and now want another shot at killing SWA so they can raise fares again.

  11. @BJ Levine – that’s not exactly what happened. The major airlines tried to kill Southwest in the courts first. The Wright Amendment wasn’t an attempt to kill them, and in fact Herb was in the room for it. It was a compromise of sorts, but they should have been allowed to fly.

    The point is, given the experience where Southwest was the oppressed it’s ironic they’ve now become the oppressor. Just like they’ve run to the government to try to kill off competition at Love Field from JSX.

  12. Gary,
    enilria did not discuss the divestiture as part of the AA/US merger in HIS article unless I missed it for all the other hubris. I know you mentioned it.

    And, yes, it was technically Virgin America that won the 2 gates and they later were acquired by Alaska. Given that virtually everything else was dismantled from the Virgin America merger, it is a surprise that Love Field has lasted this long.

    And the point is still that the feds injected themselves not only into resolution of the Love Field dispute that goes back to AA and WN – and the Wright Amendment settlements that those two but no other airlines settled – but they also tried to pick a winner for the 2 gates that AS ultimately could not use – to no one’s real surprise.

    and AA and WN have both paid a price for the protectionism that both wanted. WN probably has paid a higher price (fewer gates at Love Field which they like but no international) but also gained the highest benefit – monopolization of the airport).

    no disagreement w the Delta part you wrote…. just that lawsuits involve settlements in favor of the winning party. Dallas should have given Delta increased access to Love Field years before they did and should have reigned in WN’s well-documented bullying of Delta and the City (and ultimately Dallas taxpayers and really Love Field users, mostly WN) paid and are paying for the City’s mistake and WN’s attempts to exclude competition.

    And the other guy (tired of writing words backwards) links to one of his usual subscription articles but should be able to easily provide that data if he wants to link to it
    In fact, on O&Ds on directly comparable segments, DL gets a premium as would be expected. If that guy wants to argue otherwise, he needs to show his work in the same space that me makes his assertion.

    But, let’s be honest, he loves to tell us how much of Delta’s network doesn’t work but they managed to make $4 billion more than WN in 2023, $3.5 billion more than AA, and $2 billion more than UA

    It would be really lovely if that guy with all his supposed data would tell us where Delta is making all of its money, rank the sources of where everyone else makes their money, and then tell us why no other airline has figured out how to make the profits Delta does.

  13. Gene,
    and yet some people do because they reply to the things I state.
    The fact that you approach at least this site as a place where you push your statements on every one else and expect that the world revolves around you does not mean everyone does the same. The evidence is actually to the contrary

    You really don’t have to participate if you aren’t interested in dialogue and discussion.

    Everyone agrees that N. Texas aviation is a mess and the government’s intrusion is part of the reason.

    The “facts” of what that means are far from clear but there is simply no evidence other than someone’s back of the envelope guesses about the profitability of any airlines at Love Field because that data is not publicly available and no airline has that data about any other airline other than by their own assumptions.

    Not even WN is operating its Love Field schedule at the maximum it ever has. DL and WN both have schedules for larger operations during the summer while AS has pulled schedules.

  14. Let me summarize Tim Dunn’s comment.

    Everybody else is wrong. Delta is great.

    Y’all are welcome.

  15. Gary’s narrative is pretty right. He just cited someone that jumped to a lot of conclusions. Gary’s only “sin” is not noting that profit at a particular city cannot be known. THAT GUY didn’t even have the nerve to try to argue about profitability in his SEA article – but he doesn’t mind making that leap now.

    I deal in facts. Pure, inconvenient facts.

  16. Wow, Gary Leff, wrong again. Shocker.

    1. The Wright Amendment was absolutely, in no way or sense, a “compromise.” You’re just parroting AA propaganda from the 1980s and 90s. Seeing as how SWA had won every single court battle and including multiple appeals, AND the other airlines were then actually enjoined by the courts from bringing further frivolous action against SWA, there was no need for SWA to “compromise” on anything. SWA was set to expand interstate after deregulation in 1978, as multiple courts had determined that the law was on their side. So, House Speaker Jim Wright (D – Ft Worth, representing DFW and AA) simply CHANGED the law to hobble SWA for the benefit of his constituents. He first tried with a stand-alone bill, but that was rejected by his fellow Congressmen, so he reintroduced it as an amendment to the must-pass FAA reauthorization that year. That’s why it was called the “Wright Amendment,” and not the “Wright Law,” and certainly not the “Wright Compromise.” Kelleher testified AGAINST the Wright Amendment, and his actual recorded statement was that, “I fought valiantly, but in the end, Jim Wright was Speaker of the House, and I was not.”

    2. Southwest Airlines most certainly did NOT, as you claim, “[get] Congress to eliminate 12 gates there.” This is an outright falsehood. In the 2006 compromise that finally allowed SWA to fly from DAL outside the Wright footprint, it was American Airlines, NOT Southwest Airlines, that insisted on limiting the gates at DAL to 20. This was to limit the competition AA would have to face at DFW once SWA would be allowed to fly longer flights to the entire country. I’m sure that SWA would have loved for there to be more gates in DAL.

    You want more gates and competition at Dallas Love, Gary? Then lobby to change the law that enacted the 2006 compromise, and more gates WILL be built, as fast as they can get contractors to do the work. More gates for any and every airline who might want them, including Southwest. While you’re at it, get them to lift the “no-international” restriction, so we’ll see real, American-style competition at work, just like IAH-HOU and ORD-MDW. You’ll have to fight American Airlines tooth and nail, however.

    In the meanwhile, Gary, do some more research before you publish an article with falsehoods and gross mischaracterizations. Don’t just read the first biased article you come across, and assume it’s gospel. Don’t be another revisionist historian, especially since you claim some authority.

  17. Oh Fatty had a sad about the airport. Such a so. Called ‘expert’ yet he lies and calls Live Field government controlled? Oy such nonsense.

  18. The big issue I see is gate capacity, which is down to the current restrictions. If Love Field would build a new terminal, preferably a satellite concourse-style terminal, on the northwest side between the two runways, three things could happen.
    1. Gate capacity increase, leading to more gates.
    2. Those gates are all owned by the city and not leased out.
    3. Allows for more airlines to fly in.
    DFW is already getting capacity-constrained, so WN can’t feasibly move there, just like how other airlines can’t feasibly move back to DAL. I know this may be wishful thinking, but it is needed in order to solve future capacity issues.

  19. Jackson,
    The City of Dallas is a party to the Wright Amendment which included input from the city for how Love Field could continue to operate and included a provision to cap the number of passenger gates at 20 – which is all they have.
    There is no mechanism to add more gates and it would be disastrous to Dallas City officials to try to expand the terminal because some of the ritziest parts of Dallas are within a couple miles of Love Field.
    Southwest, being put into a box, set out to control as much of the airport as possible, got 16 of the 20 gates, and then bought UA’s other 2 gates – which is where Delta’s leased gates came from. UA decided to leave Love Field which, like JFK, is a decision they probably wishes they could remake. WN then had 18 gates but Delta went to court to argue that it could not be pushed out because it had a lease and federal law requires that airlines be accommodated if there is a change in gate control. WN tried to argue those federal laws don’t apply to Love Field because of the Wright Amendment and ultimately the appeals court agreed w/ Delta.

    The AS gates were divested from AA and all of the restrictions end in 2025 so it is possible that AA could be angling to get back to Love Field. The gate which Delta ended up w/ came from Alaska so WN still has 18 gates, DL has 1, one is up for grabs again and it isn’t clear with whom it will end up. but all of Love Field’s gate leases end in 2028 so there will be one more chapter written before a final settlement.

    There is no expectation by anyone that there will be more than 20 gates.

  20. @Tim Dunn
    I absolutely know that it probably won’t happen. I just was theorizing what could be possible.

  21. Okay real question – where did those missing gates go? They’re not just sitting empty and anyone who has been to Love knows there is no more room for any planes so unless there used to be another wing of the terminal my guess is those extra gates used to fit when planes were smaller but it’s not like you can cram more 737’s in there now. Implying there’s a ton of room but Southwest just won’t let it happen seems disingenuous.

  22. @Patrick – bulldozed! There were 6 gates at the old Legend Airlines terminal (7777 Lemmon Avenue) that were taken via eminent domain and then no compensation was provided, on the argument that the gates no longer had economic value. A Lincoln dealership sits there now.

  23. “But it’s entirely government’s doing, not the free market. The farce here is complaining about airline competition when the lack of competition is almost exclusively the result of government policy.”

    A true free market system means everything is for sale, including the gov’t and its policies. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  24. The Wright amendment is the precursor to the entire fiasco. American airlines bought legislation fearfully of completion. Those of us that suffered for years due to idiotic government involvement if free enterprise.

  25. The Legend gates were a separate terminal north of the runways, built by Legend itself (along with a parking garage). It was not part of the original terminal between the runways. Part of the 2006 Compromise that allowed airlines to fly outside the Wright footprint, was a brand new terminal with light rail access. The old terminal (32 gates) was demolished in stages to build the new one (20 gates). If the law were changed to allow more gates, then they most certainly could find a way to do so.

  26. given that citizens of Dallas had to sign off and no one wants a larger airport near them, esp. given the rich neighborhoods around Love Field, the chances of a larger terminal are slim to none.

    WN was smart enough to get as much of the terminal as it could, DL fought to keep its position at both Dallas airports just as it has in Chicago and Houston, AA recognized the value of Love Field and tried to stay there but the merger w/ US was worth more, and UA made the decision to leave Love Field and has zero chances of getting back in even if AA succeeds in rejoining DL and WN there.

  27. Whoever wrote this article does not know what they are talking about. The other airlines are the ones that forced the gate closures because they were trying to force Southwest to move to DFW. The other airlines used a law to keep SWA from flying all over the country out of Love Field. In exchange for removing the restrictions the other airlines forced a close of gates to keep other low cost airlines from flying out of Love Field.

  28. Over dramatized article.

    Gary let me correct you on this topic because what you’ve stated is flat out inaccurate.

    Southwest wasn’t the airline pushing for the reduction in gates. Southwest wanted the Wright Amendment lifted. American Airlines did not because they knew it would allow Southwest to fly to routes out of Love Field in direct competition with AA out of DFW.

    A compromise was reached where AA would not contest the lifting of the Wright Amendment in exchange for a reduction in gates at Love Field. The reduction in gates would limit the number of flights / routes that Southwest would directly compete against AA out of the Dallas Metroplex.

    I really wish you would accurately research before posting inaccurate or incomplete information.

  29. @Aaron K McNeil – American got reduced threat from DAL, Southwest got a monopoly, it was a collaborative effort that eliminated the wright amendment. It wasn’t something ‘done to’ Southwest. Herb was in the room.

  30. @Tim Dunn – “AA recognized the value of Love Field and tried to stay there ”

    AA was half-hearted at best about DAL service, they felt they needed it but would have preferred not to. When Legend Airlines was flying they ran their own all-business class Fokkers out of DAL! Those went away as soon as Legend was done.

  31. Sorry Gary, wrong again.

    First your claim was that “Southwest got Congress to eliminate 12 gates.” In order to create a monopoly. Now you’re softening your position to, “it was a collaborative effort.” You’re still wrong. Southwest didn’t want ANY restrictions on gates, but AA and DFW insisted, and pressed hard. Southwest finally acquiesced and accepted AA’s demand (along with their demand to restrict DAL to domestic only), simply to avoid another multi-year legal battle.

    Seriously, Gary, where do you get your information, and what’s your agenda here?

  32. I’m shocked, shocked I say to find government regulation stifling market competition to the detriment of the consumer.

  33. Gary:

    Your quote, “Herb was in the room,” is the same tired propaganda you used, word for word, in one of your comments above where you tried to claim that the original Wright Amendment was somehow a “compromise” that Southwest was agreeable to. This is the rankest sort of revisionist history: the Wright Amendment was IMPOSED upon Southwest by SpeakerJim Wright, and only after SWA had prevailed in every frivolous suit thrown at them.

    In the 2006 agreement that modified the WA, the gate cap was also imposed upon Southwest, over its objections. SWA wanted no gate caps, but they were forced to accept them in order to get any WA relief at all.

    And contrary to what you may think, Herb [Kelleher] ISN’T in the room every time someone talks about Southwest. The 2004-2006 campaign to repeal the WA was actually Gary Kelly’s baby; he was the second CEO after Kelleher stepped down.

  34. Gary, you said it yourself: “The airline, which fought tooth and nail for the right to be allowed to fly there as an upstart, and now uses the machinations of government to keep out competitors.” In a free market, the gov’t is just another tool for corporations to bend policy to their will.

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