Countdown to Dallas flights

When Southwest is allowed to fly more nonstops to Love Field, prices could drop

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

Last year at its corporate headquarters, Southwest Airlines installed a countdown clock to mark the days, hours and minutes leading up to a significant event.

The Dallas-based airline, the busiest at McCarran International Airport, is counting down until the expiration of the Wright Amendment, which restricts the types of flights that can fly to or from Dallas’ Love Field.

When the law sunsets Oct. 13, Southwest will be able to fly nonstop between Love Field and any destination on its route map. The Wright Amendment prohibits airlines from flying planes with more than 56 seats nonstop between Love Field and all but nine states, including Texas and its neighbors.

Why should Las Vegans care?

The repeal will likely mean new flight options and cheaper fares to Dallas. And it could have consequences for other routes to Texas, too.

Soon, Southwest will publish its first fall flight schedule of the post-Wright Amendment era. Las Vegas is expected to be in the mix of cities getting nonstop flights to and from Dallas.

American and Spirit airlines offer a combined average 13 flights a day between McCarran and Dallas-Fort Worth International. With Southwest in the mix, some analysts see the potential for ticket prices to go down in the Dallas market.

In the early days of the Wright Amendment, which took effect in 1980, Southwest couldn’t sell tickets between Las Vegas and Love Field.

In October 2006, new legislation set a timetable for ending the restrictions and allowed Southwest to sell one-stop and connecting-flight routes. The legislation also prohibited international flights from Love Field and directed that the airport be made over to include a 20-gate terminal with 16 gates for Southwest.

But most important, it activated the eight-year countdown clock.

The countdown is in its final year, and Southwest’s competitors are watching to see how the airline positions itself in light of the coming changes.

Southwest executives have made it clear that Las Vegas, the airline’s second-busiest station, will get new routes. But there aren’t enough gates at Love Field for Southwest to fly to every destination it serves.

Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago no doubt will be on the schedule. New York and Washington, D.C., have to be high on the list, too. But something has to give.

That’s what Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air is watching for.

If Southwest discontinues some of its Las Vegas flights to Lubbock, El Paso and Amarillo, it could open the door for Allegiant to test those waters. Allegiant is trying flights to Austin.

The end of the Wright Amendment is a big opportunity for Southwest. But it also may provide new opportunities for other airlines. And the countdown is on.

Tags: Opinion, Business