For North Texans, flying to Missouri just got a lot cheaper.
Discount carrier Southwest Airlines said Thursday that it will offer four flights a day from Dallas Love Field to St. Louis and Kansas City beginning Dec. 13. Round-trip fares on the eight flights will be $158 for tickets bought 14 days in advance and $258 for last-minute purchases.
The Southwest fares are as much as 50 percent cheaper than prices advertised by American Airlines on its Web site Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, American had matched Southwest's fares to the two cities from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Southwest also launched a $98 Internet-only fare sale on round-trip tickets to each city.
That sale is available only to customers who use the airline's "Ding" software, which alerts users when short-term discounts are available.
The flights to Missouri will mark the first Love Field service beyond the traditional boundaries of the Wright Amendment.
They are possible because of a federal law, signed by President Bush Wednesday, that exempts Missouri from the Wright restrictions.
"Southwest Airlines has served Missouri for more than 20 years, but Congress has prevented us from offering low-fare service between Missouri and our home airport at Dallas' Love Field," Herb Kelleher, Southwest's executive chairman and co-founder, said in a prepared statement. "Missouri has been punished far too long by the resulting high-fare monopoly."
American is expected to move flights to Love but hasn't announced details of its new service.
The airline will probably match Southwest's four daily flights to each Missouri city and may add additional cities within the Wright Amendment boundaries, such as Houston.
Kevin Cox, D/FW's chief operating officer, said he was "waiting on pins and needles" to learn how many flights American plans to move from D/FW Airport to Love Field.
"We are unhappy that we find ourselves in this situation," Cox said.
"But for those who prognosticated that American wasn't going to move, we warned them that it wasn't a threat. And we're now going to see the reality that that was not a threat."
D/FW was not planning any lawsuits "at this time" to stop American's pullout.
"Unfortunately it is going in the wrong direction, when Southwest can come out here and offer the great fares that they have got listed without the negative impact to the rest of the community," Cox said.
The Wright Amendment is a 1979 federal law that restricts flights from Love Field to Texas and adjacent states.
It was later amended to include Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi, but Southwest has never launched direct nonstop service to those states.
Because Missouri will be considered part of the Wright Amendment zone, passengers will not be allowed to buy tickets that connect in St. Louis or Kansas City to other destinations.
Southwest executives have been lobbying Congress for a year to overturn the amendment, calling it outdated and anti-consumer.
Officials with D/FW and American have argued that any weakening of the Wright Amendment will hurt the larger airport and the North Texas economy.
D/FW officials have pressed Southwest to begin long-haul service there. The airline has refused, insisting that D/FW doesn't fit its business model.
Southwest executives estimated that the new service will result in 500,000 additional passengers between North Texas and Missouri.
Staff writer David Wethe contributed to this report.
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