American Airlines has lowered fares between Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Omaha as it tries to slow the campaign to repeal the Wright Amendment.
Fort Worth-based American slashed airfares between the two cities by as much as 40 percent last week after Nebraska Sen. Bill Nelson complained about high prices on the route.
"This came about as a result of a conversation we've been having with American," said David DiMartino, a spokesman for Nelson. "Folks had been complaining to us about the fares."
Several lawmakers from Nebraska are supporting the effort to overturn the Wright Amendment, which restricts interstate commercial service from Dallas Love Field to the states that border Texas, plus Mississippi, Kansas and Alabama.
The 1979 federal law has the effect of preventing Dallas-based Southwest Airlines from offering long-haul service from North Texas, because Southwest operates only at Love.
That results in higher fares on many long-haul routes at D/FW Airport, because American has little or no competition.
Southwest executives have refused repeated offers to serve D/FW Airport, citing congestion and the fact that American operates a hub there. They instead have been pushing Congress to repeal the amendment, which would open Love to distant cities such as Omaha.
Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska are co-sponsors of a bill in the House that would repeal the law. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is co-sponsoring a similar measure in the Senate.
Nelson, however, hasn't signed on. He said he will discuss the issue with Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn before making a decision. Nelson "doesn't think there is a legislative solution to every problem," DiMartino said of the federal law. "He tends to believe in the ability of states to solve their own problems."
An American spokesman confirmed that Gerard Arpey, the airline's chief executive, met with Nelson in June when he was lobbying Congress on pension issues.
"The question of fares did come up, and Arpey said he would look into it," American spokesman Tim Wagner said.
Wagner said American reduced fares Friday "in order to remain competitive." He pointed out that the airline constantly monitors fares and often makes changes.
Executives with Southwest said they weren't concerned by the move and said they doubted it would dampen their campaign to lift the Love Field restrictions.
"All this shows is that even the threat of competition can reduce fares," Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart said. "Just imagine what the real thing will do."
Nebraska isn't the first state where American has lowered fares after anti-Wright Amendment moves by lawmakers. This year, the airline cut fares between D/FW and Nashville after Tennessee legislators filed a bill that would have exempted their state from the amendment.
In that case, the attempt appears to have failed. Last month, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., refiled the bill allowing flights between Love Field and that state.
In Nebraska, two repeal supporters said the fare cut won't make any difference.
"It doesn't change a thing," Terry said. While he welcomed the fare cut, he said, "we want to be able to access Southwest Airlines at Love Field the way it is at every other airport."
Brian Lee, a spokesman for Fortenberry, agreed. "This is an issue of fairness."
Hagel was unaware of the fare cut and could not comment Monday, spokesman Mike Buttrey said.
In the Know
American Airlines cut some fares from D/FW Airport to Omaha last week after complaints from a Nebraska senator.
Walkup - $1,198
7-day advance purchase - $694
14-day advance purchase - $340
Walkup - $694 (42%)
7-day advance purchase - $578 (17%)
14-day advance purchase - $340 (no change)