Southwest Makes History With Love Field to St. Louis Flight

ST. LOUIS -- Southwest Airlines quietly made history Tuesday morning, flying its first airplane from Dallas Love Field to St. Louis.

The trip was the first commercial nonstop flight in Southwest's history from Love beyond the original boundaries of the Wright Amendment. The significance of the 8:10 a.m. departure wasn't lost on flight attendant Ted Eiel as he welcomed passengers on the airplane's intercom.

"Welcome to Southwest Flight 355 from Dallas to ..." he said, then paused dramatically, "... St. Louis."

After another pause, he added, "Woo-hoo!"

The nonstop flight from Love to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis came thanks to a bill passed by Congress last month. Championed by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., it exempts Missouri from the Wright Amendment, a 1979 law that restricted commercial service from Love to Texas and adjacent states.

Southwest also began nonstop trips to Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday.

The flights mark the first major crack in the amendment since its passage. A previous bill had exempted Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi, but Southwest never launched service to those states, citing a lack of demand.

Flights from Dallas to Missouri, however, are likely to be popular. One analyst has estimated that it could bring the airline an additional $80 million in annual revenue. Airline officials have said advance bookings for the flights have been strong, particularly for the holiday season.

Despite the importance of the exemption to Southwest, the landmark first flight Tuesday was largely uneventful.

When President Bush signed the Missouri exemption into law in late November, Southwest executives said they would throw a "big party" at Love to mark the inaugural flight.

Southwest is known for holding raucous events to mark new service.

But those plans were shelved after a Dec. 9 crash in Chicago, when a 6-year-old boy was killed after a Southwest airplane skidded off a runway at Midway Airport, slid onto a nearby street and hit the car he was traveling in.

"Airlines typically don't do much promotional stuff right after a crash," said an executive with a competing airline, who asked not to be identified. "It's just not in good taste."

But although the first flight lacked Southwest's traditional over-the-top treatment, the airline still touted its historic status, albeit more quietly. Passengers were given mints in a commemorative box, and flight attendants gave away complimentary bloody mary cocktails during the flight.

Mike Hinds, a Southwest pilot who served as the first officer on the Boeing 737, said he felt "very honored to be a part of history today."

He said the new route sends a message that the Wright restrictions will eventually be lifted nationwide.

"We may do this one state at a time, but it's going to happen," he said.

For North Texas consumers who fly to Missouri, the new competition means big savings.

Previously, Fort Worth-based American Airlines had operated the only nonstop flights to St. Louis and Kansas City, flying from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

American's fares dropped by as much as 50 percent after Southwest began offering tickets at cheaper prices.

Traveler Caroline Parry of Coppell, who traveled on the inaugural flight, said she was happy with the new service. Although she lives closer to D/FW, she said she drives the extra distance to Love Field whenever she has an opportunity to fly Southwest.

"Their service can't be beat," said Parry, who works in sales for an equipment company and travels often. She cited the airline's flexibility and lack of fees for services like changing flight times. "They just make it a lot easier to travel." She said she hopes that more states are exempted from the restrictions. "I'm really hoping for Denver," she said.

American is the largest airline at Lambert, which it operated as a hub when it bought St. Louis-based TWA in 2001.

But the carrier dramatically reduced its St. Louis operations in 2003 amid a nationwide restructuring. American also laid off thousands of former TWA employees based in the city.

Southwest executives began lobbying Congress last year to repeal the Wright Amendment, calling it unfair and anti-consumer.

Officials with American and D/FW have fought to keep the amendment intact, claiming that any new service at Love would damage the larger airport's finances.

William Kuntz of Akron, Ohio, who flew from Dallas to Cleveland on Tuesday with a stop in St. Louis, said he hoped that Southwest succeeds in its quest to serve more cities.

"It's a good deal for everybody," Kuntz said. "Competition is good."

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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