Size Hurt D/FW's Response to Storm

The final numbers are in: 287 departures canceled over the past two days because of icy weather at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and zero at Dallas Love Field.

With essentially the same conditions hitting both airports, which are eight miles apart, why such a difference?

Airline industry experts say it's the sheer size of D/FW and its massive number of flights compared with Love Field, and the hub-and-spoke system of Fort Worth-based American Airlines versus the point-to-point model at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.

Last year, 249,000 commercial, cargo and general aviation flights took off and landed at Love Field's three runways, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

D/FW had more than three times as many operations -- 814,000 -- on its seven runways.

While D/FW has larger capacity, there are still more people passing through, more activities going on and more of a chance for delays, said Terry Trippler, an airline expert at Minneapolis-based Cheapseats.com.

Trippler compares it to fans spilling out of a sold-out Minneapolis Metrodome after a football game versus a less-attended event at the dome.

"It's going to take a lot longer to empty a full stadium than a stadium that's a quarter full," he said.

In addition, because commercial long-haul flights from Love Field are limited to eight states around Texas, that airport is affected by weather only in those states, whereas D/FW is affected by weather in all 50 states, said David Magana, a spokesman for D/FW.

American's hub-and-spoke system, which accounted for all of the reported delays at D/FW, also plays a factor.

The de-icing of planes adds 15 to 30 minutes to the time it takes an airplane to push away from the gate and take off.

Add that to every flight leaving D/FW, and you end up with a huge backlog, experts said.

To alleviate the massive congestion at D/FW, American began sending some connecting passengers to another large hub for American at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for the airline.

For example, if a passenger was trying to go from Los Angeles to New York, and her journey was scheduled to stop for a connection at D/FW, that person was moved onto a Los Angeles-to-Chicago flight, and then a Chicago-to-New York flight.

That means two canceled flights at D/FW: the inbound from Los Angeles and the outbound to New York.

As a result, more room is freed up in the schedule to de-ice other planes.

But Southwest doesn't face the same issues at Love Field, said Whitney Eichinger, a company spokeswoman.

Because flights are staggered more, there aren't as many taking off at the same time.

That leads to shorter wait times to be de-iced, she said. The smaller size of Love Field -- which has 1,300 acres versus D/FW's 18,000 acres -- leads to shorter taxi times and fewer delays because the runways are closer to the gates.

"We didn't have the same tempo of operations here that they did there at D/FW -- that makes life easier," said Terry Mitchell, assistant director of aviation for the city of Dallas, which owns Love Field.

Fort Worth Star Telegram


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