Southwest, Virgin America launch long-haul flights from Dallas Love Field

A few flight delays and morning thunderstorms failed to rain on Dallas Love Field’s parade to celebrate the end of the Wright Amendment on Monday.

Southwest Airlines, which launched the campaign a decade ago to have the restrictions on long-haul flights removed, had a rock band, free donuts and coffee for passengers who traveled from Love on the first flights to Denver and Chicago. Virgin America, which also launched service out of Love Field on Monday, passed out champagne and chicken-and-waffles on a stick during a promotional flight from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to highlight its move to Dallas.

Interactive: Story map showing new destinations out of Love Field

For local leaders, it marked the culmination of years of negotiations and an act of Congress that was needed to get rid of restrictions enacted in 1980 to protect a then-fledgling DFW Airport from competition at Love Field.

“This is a major day for the city of Dallas,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. “The Wright Amendment is gone. We’re going to be flying all over the country at this airport and we have new product and new options for the citizens of Dallas.”

Gary Kelly, Southwest’s chairman and chief executive, scanned boarding passes and passed out hugs to passengers as they boarded the inaugural nonstop flight to Denver at 6:40 a.m. The company also unfurled a banner on its headquarters building, visible from Love Field’s runways, declaring “Goodbye, Wright Amendment. Hello, America.”

“It’s good for our local economy, it’s good for jobs, it’s good for competition,” Kelly told reporters. “It’s good for travelers who live in North Texas. It’s good for travelers who want to come to North Texas. It is just good all the way around.”

Several Tarrant County residents decided to bypass DFW to take advantage of the cheap fares at Love Field on Monday.

Arlington resident Clay Harris said he had planned to take his family on their first trip to Disney World since their kids are out of school for fall break this week. When he saw the fare sale Southwest Airlines ran to celebrate the end of the Wright Amendment, he quickly bought tickets on the nonstop 1:30 p.m. flight to Orlando.

“It was cheaper than American (Airlines), about $800 less for our family of four,” Harris said. “I usually always fly American out of DFW but it’s so much less it was worth the extra twenty-minute drive.

Susan Fincher, who also lives in Arlington, was excited to take Virgin America’s flight from Love Field to Washington’s Reagan National Airport. She and her husband wanted to take a vacation in Virginia and the Virgin America fare sale made it possible.

Driving past DFW, where her husband volunteers in the ambassador program, to take flights out of Love Field is a typical occurrence for Fincher.

“Normally we fly Southwest because we have family on the West Coast. So we usually come here,” Fincher said.

The expiration of flight restrictions, which limited direct flights to cities in Texas and a handful of nearby states, resulted from a compromise reached in 2006 by Southwest, American Airlines, the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth and DFW Airport.

Initially, Southwest won the right for thru-ticketing, which allowed customers to buy one-stop flights to cities outside the Wright Amendment boundaries on one ticket. But the airline had to wait eight years to launch direct flights anywhere in the U.S., giving DFW and American time to adjust. As part of the deal, Love Field has been capped at 20 gates.

Southwest launched direct flights on Monday to Denver, Chicago Midway, Washington, D.C., Baltimore-Washington, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla. It will add more destinations in November.

The Dallas-based carrier also faces a new competitior as San Francisco-based Virgin America moved its operations from DFW to Love Field. Virgin began its Love Field service with flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Reagan National in Washington, and will add New York’s LaGuardia airport. By April, it plans to operate 16 daily flights from Love Field.

Virgin America Chief Executive David Cush said advance bookings for its flights out of Love look good and the airline is considering adding flights to Chicago.

“What we saw when we started serving DFW [in 2010] was that fares dropped by about 30 percent, traffic increased by about 50 percent,” Cush said. “We’re expecting the same thing out of LaGuardia and [Washington D.C.] and we’re seeing early signs that that will be the case.”

Some Virgin America customers were confused by the switch as five of them showed up at DFW to catch flights scheduled to leave Love Field, Cush said. The airline plans to staff its ticket counter at DFW for the next week in case customers accidentally show up at the wrong airport for their flight.

Virgin operated a special flight between DFW and Love Field this morning, flying local dignitaries, customers and media as well as Virgin’s founder Sir Richard Branson. Country singer Kasey Musgraves serenaded the passengers on the Airbus A319 as it flew west to Lubbock and then back to Love Field.

The end of travel restrictions was meaningful for longtime Southwest customers and employees.

Bill de Haas, a Dallas businessman, said he started flying Southwest in its first few months, when flight attendants wore “hot pants” and you could buy a round-trip ticket to Houston for $19.

“Now we can fly it all over the United States, and this really makes it much easier,” said de Haas. “I want to get on the plane and go.”

Kate McNamara, a flight attendant who is based in Baltimore, was so excited about the expiration of the Wright Amendment that she flew to Dallas and bought a hotel room on her own dime to work one of the inaugural flights.

McNamara first learned about the Wright Amendmnt when she interned at Southwest while in college five years ago.

“I remember back then that the Wright Amendment felt so far away,” she said. “It restricted our service and it restricted our growth as a company. It seemed this day would never get here, and here it is five years later and I’m a flight attendant working one of the inaugural flights.”

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This story was originally published October 13, 2014 10:21 AM.

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