Delta Repels Southwest Bid to Oust It From Dallas Love Field

  • Judge says powers-that-be should correct airport growth limits
  • Delta can continue flights as Southwest tries to undo lease

Delta Air Lines Inc. can keep flying out of crowded Dallas Love Field, a federal judge ruled, thwarting Southwest Airlines Co. at least temporarily in its bid to control 90 percent of the near-downtown airport.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade said in an order Friday that Delta’s use of two gates for five flights at the airport don’t unduly interfere with Southwest’s schedule. Delta, though, would be harmed if it was forced out of Love Field before a final resolution of the case.

Delta argued Southwest was establishing a near monopoly when it began subleasing the two gates Delta was using last year, a move that gave the Dallas-based carrier control of 18 of 20 gates at Love. Delta is seeking to unwind the sublease or force Southwest to continue to accommodate Delta flights. The case now moves toward trial for a final decision on that request.

The city of Dallas, the airport’s owner, asked Kinkeade in a lawsuit filed in June to settle the dispute over Delta’s gate access.

Since restrictions on non-stop flights were lifted in October 2014, traffic forecasts have mushroomed to 7 million passengers in 2015 from 4.5 million last year, Dallas Aviation Director Mark Duebner testified at a three-day hearing that ended Sept. 30. The airport’s 20 gates are full, and a local agreement keeps it from adding more.

‘Powers-that-Be’

The growth limits at Love Field should be addressed and corrected by “the political powers-that-be,” Kinkeade said in his ruling.

“The flying public deserves more courage from its elected officials about travel to and from Love Field,” the judge wrote. “The time for these elected officials to consider an end to all constraints on Love Field is now.”

Nonstop flights had been limited at Love Field under a federal law enacted in 1979 for the purpose of promoting Dallas-Fort Worth International airport. Southwest has steadily expanded service at Love Field since the restrictions were lifted.

Southwest will continue operating 180 flights a day at Love Field, serving 50 non-stop destinations, said spokesman Brad Hawkins.

“This isn’t the end of this case and we are evaluating our future options,” Hawkins said. “Southwest invested in setting Love Field free so that it could once again be both a source of pride and utilized to its fullest potential.”

Delta flies five flights a day from Love to its hub in Atlanta using Southwest’s gates under a temporary agreement.

‘Virtual Monopoly’

“For Southwest Airlines, this is five flights too many,” Delta lawyers wrote in court papers in June. “Southwest has a virtual monopoly over Love Field.”

“Delta has shown no legal right to be on the gates, therefore, they’re trespassing,” Southwest lawyer Kent Krabill told Kinkeade at a hearing in September.

Delta’s lawyers discovered in the case that Southwest, which trades under the ticker LUV, in late 2014 paid United Airlines $120 million to sublease the two gates, in addition to assuming rent payments. Delta alleges the payment was unlawful and asked the judge to unwind the sublease.

“Paying for gates and slots is common and appropriate,” Krabill told the judge then. He said the sublease and payment information was submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for antitrust review and the department took no action to stop or modify it.

“Delta is pleased that the court has confirmed our right to serve Love Field,” Kate Modolo, a spokeswoman for the carrier, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to bringing the people of Dallas the benefit of Delta’s industry leading product and global network at this airport.”

The case is City of Dallas v. Delta Air Lines Inc., 15-cv-02069, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).