Love Field is an airport located right smack in the middle of Dallas, Texas. For a time, it was one of the busiest airports in the United States. Nowadays, though, you're unlikely to fly into Love Field unless you're taking a very short trip on Southwest Airlines. In many ways, Love Field is an anomaly: a highly regulated airport in our modern era of airline deregulation.

The heyday

Moss Lee Love (b. 1879) was a first lieutenant in the United States Army who was shipped off to the Philippines in 1911 to become one of the U.S. military's first pilots. He returned to the US mainland in 1913 and began flying school in California, where he was killed in a plane crash later that year. Love was the tenth military aviation fatality in American history. The Army was building a new airfield in Dallas shortly afterward, and decided to name it after the late pilot. Love Field opened on October 19, 1917.

In June of 1929, Delta became the first airline to serve Love Field; several months later, Braniff became the second, and American made Dallas a stop on its southern transcontinental route between New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Eventually, Pioneer Airlines, Continental, and Texas International were also flying to Love.

The feud

Dallas is one half of a metroplex. The other half is the city of Fort Worth. While Fort Worth is smaller than Dallas, it always saw itself as the equal of its neighbor. One of the men who pushed this view was the cigar-chomping publisher/cowboy mayor of Fort Worth, Amon Carter, who was quite interested in aviation. Carter had a separate airport built in Fort Worth, Meacham Field, in 1925. Meacham became the headquarters of Southern Air Transport, a predecessor of American Airlines, and Carter later served on the board of directors of American.

Although airlines served both Dallas and Fort Worth, there was a distinct impression that this was a waste of resources. The two cities made several attempts at creating a joint airport, none of which ever came to fruition. Fort Worth finally took the initiative and built a new airport between the two cities, but within Fort Worth city limits, opening in 1953. Initially named Amon Carter Field, it was later renamed Greater Southwest International Airport. Despite its grandiose name and service by a few major airlines, GSIA didn't make much of a dent in Love Field's traffic.

Finally, the FAA put its foot down and told the two cities to reach a compromise. Their compromise was the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, built on a huge piece of land due north of GSIA. DFW was the largest airport in the country at that time, and all of the airlines using Love and GSIA as of 1968 decided to consolidate their operations at DFW. American, which was then based in New York, announced it would move its headquarters to DFW (the corporate campus now sits on the site of GSIA).

The Southwest era

There was one holdout. Southwest Airlines, which had started intrastate flights in 1971, decided not to move to DFW, and it managed to keep Love Field open for business while a much shinier airport was opening several miles away. DFW decided that competition with Love was unacceptable, so it made a rule that no airline could fly into DFW if it also flew into Love. Southwest didn't care about DFW, so it kept offering cheap flights from Love to Houston and San Antonio.

After the Airline Deregulation Act was passed in 1978, Southwest began planning flights to New Orleans, Louisiana. DFW lobbyists went into full swing in Washington, DC, and had the Wright Amendment added on to the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979 (94 Stat. 35, 48). The Wright Amendment imposed a new set of rules on flights to and from Love Field, and the only flights allowed were the following:

  • Scheduled flights within Texas and the states bordering Texas (Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico)
  • Scheduled flights using aircraft with 56 or fewer seats
  • Charter flights, so long as no carrier operated more than 10 flights a month

Southwest was essentially corraled by Congress. The Wright Amendment prohibited the airline from selling tickets from Love Field to any destination beyond the five-state radius. Southwest was also barred from selling separate tickets that would accomplish the same goal. And by that time, 56-seat aircraft were economically obsolete for mainline use: Southwest's Boeing 737s, relatively small airliners, all carried more than 100 passengers.

A few other airlines challenged Southwest at Love Field. The most notable was Muse Air (later, briefly, TranStar), a similar carrier which Southwest bought out in 1986. For the most part, though, Southwest enjoyed dominance of Love Field following the opening of DFW.

The hubbub of 1997

In 1997, several interesting things happened at Love. This was one of the last profitable years for the airline industry in general, and carriers were expanding like crazy. Southwest had a new friend at Love, Legend Airlines, which took half of the seats out of large airliners (so they could meet the Wright Amendment's 56-seat restriction) and offered flights to airports across the country. A new amendment to the law, the Shelby Amendment (111 Stat. 1425), opened up three more states to service by larger aircraft: Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi.

DFW was understandably pissed off at these developments. American, which had a clear hegemony over the Metroplex's air travel market, was even more pissed off. So DFW and AA joined the City of Fort Worth in filing a lawsuit against the City of Dallas, on the basis that the Shelby Amendment and the 56-seat restriction were not in compliance with a separate deal the city had made with Fort Worth before the opening of DFW.

Although this argument was upheld in state court, it eventually found its way into the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which decided that federal law should prevail over the bond ordinance in question. (American Airlines, Inc. v. DOT, 202 F.3d 788.) The three plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court but did not get certiorari, so the ruling stood: Love Field was open for business.

The brief era of competition

While their legal battle was in progress, the big boys began encroaching on Southwest's home turf. In 1998, Continental began regional jet service to Houston, and American began full-size jet service to Austin. Then, in 2000, American reconfigured several Fokker 100s to an all-first class layout and placed them in service between Love Field, Chicago, and Los Angeles, while Continental and Delta began regional jet flights to Cleveland and Atlanta respectively.

This flurry of service at Love Field ended abruptly on September 11, 2001. Airlines were forced to cut back their services to deal with new realities in air travel. American ended all of its flights from Love on September 12th, Continental stopped its Cleveland service shortly afterward, Legend went out of business entirely, and Delta pulled out of Love in 2003. This left Love to Southwest, and a couple of odd Continental flights to Houston.

The ongoing struggle

Southwest continues to fight to overturn the Wright Amendment. American, DFW, and Fort Worth continue to fight to keep it. Dallas has been very torn over the idea but has leaned toward overturning the amendment in recent years.

DFW's position is simple: Southwest can fly anywhere it wants to, once it leaves Love and moves to DFW. Southwest thinks this is utter crap, since their economic advantage comes from their proximity to central Dallas. Time will tell who comes out on top of this battle.

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