Why Southwest Airlines only flies out of an undersized Dallas Love Field

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines duke it out when it comes to the title of the nation’s largest air carrier. But their hometown airports at DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field don’t even play in the same league when it comes to traffic and flights.

That’s because of a complicated set of agreements and federal laws that started way back with the creation of DFW Airport in the 1960s and determines who and how many flights come out of Love Field.

Here’s how we got here.

As part of the deal to build DFW Airport, Love Field was supposed to close so all air commercial air traffic could move to the new $ 700-million air hub near Grapevine.

In 1971, Southwest Airlines started flying out of Love, arguing that it could do so because it was only flying between airports in Texas.

When the US airline industry was deregulated in 1978, Southwest made plans to start flying outside of Texas. That upset politicians who had worked on the compromise to build DFW Airport, which is less than 10 miles away from Love Field and dependent on revenue from passengers and airlines bound to DFW.

Southwest Airlines could expand to DFW Airport in 2025 as Love Field restriction expires

Powerful Congressman Jim Wright, who represented Fort Worth and was later Speaker of the House, pushed through a federal law bearing his name in 1979, restricting air travel from Love Field to just Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana.

By 2006, Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher pushed Congress to drop the Wright Amendment entirely. Kelleher found enough supporters to force a deal. DFW officials and some politicians believed that DFW would default on its bonds if Love Field could compete on equal grounds.

Hundreds of Southwest Airlines employees wave their hands as other employees throw t-shirts off the roof of the company’s headquarters after lowering a new banner on the front of their building on Oct. 13, 2014. They were celebrating the Wright amendment that ends and Dallas Love Field is opened to non-stop flights, at Love Field in Dallas. (David Woo / The Dallas Morning News) 12312014xBIZ(David Woo / Staff Photographer)

Southwest Airlines was offered space at DFW but turned it down in favor of Love Field.

Facing the threat of no restrictions at Love Field, DFW Airport arrived at a deal in 2006 with the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth and American Airlines and Southwest to allow flights to any state starting in 2014, as long as the airport agreed to have just 20 gates permanently. The Wright Amendment was officially lifted, and Congress blessed the deal with a rewritten law.

Love Field was also restricted from hosting commercial flights to international destinations. Southwest Airlines, which controlled 15 of the 20 gates at Love Field, also agreed that it would have to give up one of those slots if it expanded to any other airport within 80 miles, such as DFW. That last stipulation was to remain effective until 2025.

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