Southwest Airlines Co. wasted no time in announcing Thursday that it will launch service from Dallas to St. Louis and Kansas City on Dec. 13, and American Airlines plans to challenge Southwest on those same routes.
Southwest's announcement came the day after President Bush signed a transportation bill that included a provision to make Missouri the ninth state that airlines can serve directly from Dallas Love Field.
The carrier said it would operate four daily nonstop flights to St. Louis and four more to Kansas City. Southwest said it would charge $79 each way for tickets bought 14 days in advance and $129 each way for other tickets.
Analysts say Southwest's new service would mostly hurt American by taking away customers and forcing it to cut fares on flights to Missouri.
Even before Congress acted on the Missouri exemption, American reduced fares on its flights to St. Louis and Kansas City from its hub at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. On Thursday, American cut fares again to match Southwest's prices on flights beginning Dec. 13, spokesman Tim Wagner said.
American has no timetable for launching Love Field service, but Wagner said, "We want to start as quickly as possible."
American is considering flying from there to states other than just Missouri, Wagner said. First, American must add computers, a ticketing area, jetbridges and other improvements.
American leases three gates at Love Field but has never used them. American, however, operated flights at Love Field in 2000 and 2001 at a gate it shared with Continental Airlines Inc. American launched that service to compete with startup Legend Airlines, but it pulled out of Love Field shortly after Legend went out of business.
Restrictions on Love Field date to 1979, when Congress passed a law known as the Wright Amendment, which limited flights at the Dallas airport to other Texas destinations and four neighboring states to protect then-new DFW Airport. In 1997, Congress allowed flights to three more states.
American, a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., has staunchly fought any effort to weaken the Wright Amendment to protect its DFW hub. Dallas-based Southwest was long silent on the issue but began lobbying Congress for its repeal late last year. Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., pushed this fall to allow service from his state to Love Field.
The Wright Amendment only applies to planes with more than 56 seats. Legend Airlines and American Eagle both used smaller jets to fly to New York, Los Angeles and other cities, but Southwest can't do the same with its fleet, which consists entirely of Boeing 737s, unless it removed seats.
Shares of Southwest rose 2 cents to close at $16.52 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. AMR shares rose 8 cents to close at $16.97.
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Service is scheduled to begin December 13th.
Round-trip fares on the eight flights will be $158 for tickets bought 14 days in advance and $258 for last-minute purchases.
After three decades of shunning Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Southwest Airlines plans to begin serving the airport starting next month.
The law needs to be signed by Bush, which is expected to happen in the next several days.