As Dallas Love Field ramped up to its post-Wright Amendment capacity heights on Tuesday with Southwest’s launch of nonstop flights to Oakland and San Francisco, one of the lesser-known sideshows that sprung out of the Wright repeal continues unresolved. That sideshow involves Delta Air Lines, who as you may recall originally requested that the city of Dallas grant them use of the two gates that AA was required to divest as a result of their merger with US Airways. The DOJ, however, made it known that it considered Delta an unacceptable candidate for the gates, and that they needed to be handed over to either Southwest or Virgin America.
Ultimately, VX was granted the two gates, which left DL in a lurch. Southwest already controlled 16 of the refurbished Love Field’s 20 gates, with VX and United controlling two each. This led to an ugly spat between Delta and the city of Dallas, with Dallas claiming there was no room at the inn and that Delta would have to leave the airport, and Delta threatening legal action against the city if they didn’t find them room. A temporary truce was brokered, whereby WN would allow DL to temporarily use one gate (a gate WN was actually subleasing from UA). That sublease was supposed to expire on January 6th, at which time there would once again be no room at the inn for poor little Delta. So DL has packed its bags and taken the midnight train to Georgia, right? Not so fast. Delta is still flying from Love, and in fact, is still booking flights for the forseeable future on those five hops on the 717 to ATL (if you really want some irony, consider that those 717s may well be ones they bought from WN, after they euthanized AirTran). According to Wednesday’s Dallas Morning News, negotiations on a long-term settlement are still ongoing, but no, nothing has been settled yet, and apparently Southwest continues to allow Delta shared use of one of its gates. The City Council was supposed to discuss the issue in executive session late Wednesday, but as of the time of this post, nada to report.
In theory, this means DL could be kicked out of the airport at any time, leading to considerable inconvenience for anyone booked on those flights, but personally, I find that unlikely. One of the major sticking points in the dispute was Delta’s allegation that United was squatting on its two gates by not utilizing them fully. As I reported back in September, that does seem to be a genuine issue. At the time, UA had programmed 10 flights a day out of DAL in the schedule, all to Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). This has since been cut down to 6-7 flights a day. Considering that Southwest is operating 153 flights a day out of its 16 gates (or is it 17?), it seems pretty clear UA could squeeze in more flights if they really wanted to. My guess here is that they don’t, and the city is trying to tell them as nicely as possible that if they can’t or won’t utilize the gates to the max, they need to play nice and share with DL. It’s probably down to a money issue at this point, specifically, how much is Delta willing to pay to play. This is all a very long way of saying, if you’re one of those folks who has tickets on the DAL-ATL shuttle over the next few weeks, I wouldn’t panic, yet. More updates on this blog once there’s more news from 1500 Marilla.
UPDATE (1/8/15 7:21p): Delta has been granted a 6-month reprieve, per the DMN, and will be permitted to fly out of DAL through July 6th. Apparently, United decided to play nice and share a gate, I’m guessing the same gate they were subleasing to Southwest until day before yesterday. Sheesh. Anyway, there still isn’t a long-term solution, but if you’ve booked a flight between Love Field and Atlanta through July 6th, you’re good to go. As an aside, expect more of these fights if expanded service from DAL ends up being popular over the longer term. Stuck at 20 gates, there’s no room for expansion if another airline wants to come in. Something tells me the 20-gate limit is going to be relitigated sooner than anyone imagined. (Also, make sure to click the link to the Dallas Morning News story above for a ridiculously awesome photo of Delta’s Love Field ticket counter as it appeared in September, 1962.)