Southwest Ads Call for Repeal of Wright Amendment

Southwest Airlines launched its latest promotional blitz against the Wright Amendment this week, with a major advertising buy in North Texas that executives call "massive."

The Dallas-based airline has also unleashed thousands of employees -- some clad in 1970s-style hot pants and go-go boots -- to gather signatures on a petition requesting the amendment's repeal.

Meanwhile, rival carrier American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, is considering its own ad campaign to counter Southwest's increasingly amped-up crusade to overturn the restrictions on Dallas Love Field.

"Things are really moving now," said Ed Stewart, a Southwest spokesman.

According to Stewart, the airline purchased a "massive amount" of advertising on local TV stations last week for anti-Wright commercials. He would not disclose how much the airline is spending on the ads but acknowledged that "it's a large buy."

The spots began running July 31, he said, and feature a map showing how many cities could be served from Love Field if the amendment is overturned. Those ads, which will run through Aug. 22, will be in addition to commercials shown during Texas Rangers baseball games, which have been running for several weeks.

The Rangers ads were recently extended, Stewart said, and will run through Sept. 7.

Southwest executives are also working on developing new TV spots as well as radio ads.

American, meanwhile, might launch its own advertising campaign, although a final decision hasn't been reached, spokesman Tim Wagner said.

"It's an avenue that's open to us," he said, confirming that "it's been looked at."

That would be a major step for American, which has largely been quiet on the promotional front since Southwest launched its drive to repeal the amendment last year.

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport officials have taken the lead in opposing the effort, most recently running print advertisements asking Southwest to begin service at the larger airport.

The Wright Amendment is a 1979 federal law that restricts flights from Love Field to Texas and the states that border it. Subsequent legislation permits flights to Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi.

Originally designed to protect then-new D/FW Airport from competition, the amendment today has the effect of preventing low-fare Southwest from competing with American on long-haul flights. That's because Southwest refuses to fly out of D/FW Airport, favoring the smaller, less-congested Love.

American, meanwhile, operates a major hub at D/FW and has opposed any change in the law, as have airport officials. Southwest executives say the law is anti-consumer and argue that fares would fall dramatically if the restrictions are lifted.

Fares at D/FW on long-haul routes are 26 percent higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

American and D/FW maintain that American would shift hundreds of daily flights to Love if the amendment is repealed, and D/FW could lose millions of passengers annually.

Bills introduced this summer in the U.S. House and Senate would repeal the amendment outright, and other measures would exempt Missouri and Tennessee from the restrictions.

Southwest recently launched a petition drive in North Texas, and Stewart said the carrier has collected 100,000 signatures in favor of repeal. The airline plans eventually to give the petitions to both Texas senators.

Employees are being offered incentives to gather names. Workers who collect 500 names, for example, are awarded a free airline ticket to any destination Southwest serves.

That's spurred employees to fan out across the region searching for support.

"Our people have been going to churches, sporting events, parks, camps, gyms, day-care centers, you name it, we're there," Stewart said.

Last week, some employees dressed in the airline's 1970s flight attendant uniforms, which featured hot pants and go-go boots, collected signatures at several Dallas restaurants.

The employees were trying to demonstrate how much things have changed since the Wright Amendment was initially passed, Stewart said.