D/FW Renews Pitch to Southwest Airlines

DALLAS (AP) -- Unable to woo Southwest Airlines with an offer of $22 million and free rent, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport tried a publicity stunt Friday to lure the low-cost carrier.

DFW officials hired one of those planes that buzz beachgoers to drag a banner over Southwest's headquarters, imploring the airline to begin flying from DFW.

They also released a survey showing that most DFW travelers want Southwest to operate at the big airport.

Behind the fly-over and the survey, DFW is fighting Southwest's bid to operate long flights from Love Field, eight miles away and more conveniently located near downtown Dallas.

If Congress backs Southwest's effort to repeal a 1979 law limiting Love Field flights, the low-cost carrier could compete directly with DFW's major tenant, American Airlines, for travel to and from Dallas.

DFW officials say expanding Love Field would threaten 35,000 jobs at DFW and 268,000 jobs in the region that the Texas Department of Transportation estimated are tied to the big airport, which was meant to replace Love Field when it opened in 1974.

''I stand here today to ask Southwest Airlines to help us build our job base and help us build the economic future of North Texas,'' said Joe Lopano, DFW's executive vice president of marketing.

Lopano said a survey of about 2,700 passengers at DFW last weekend showed that 62 percent want Southwest to serve DFW.

A spokeswoman for Southwest said the fly-over and survey wouldn't change the airline's mind about expansion at Love Field.

''We plan to stay at Love Field and continue our fight to repeal the Wright Amendment,'' said Southwest's Brandy King, referring to the 1979 law restricting flights at Love Field. ''We built our business at Love Field and have 5,500 people here. It would weaken our foundation here to uproot and move to another airport.''

Consultants hired separately by DFW and Love Field both reached the conclusion that allowing Southwest to operate long flights from the smaller Dallas airport would lead to lower fares, which Southwest has made the lynchpin of its argument to repeal the Wright Amendment.

DFW offered Southwest free rent and $22 million in incentives last fall to replace Delta Air Lines Inc., which eliminated most of its DFW flights. Lopano said DFW had not spoken with Southwest in at least three months, but added, ''We still think it's possible'' Southwest could begin service there.

To press its case, DFW bused more than 100 employees to the fly-over and press conference Friday just outside Love Field. Michael Baldwin, DFW's assistant vice president of revenue management, led the group in cheers.

''Who do we want?'' Baldwin sang.

''Southwest,'' answered the employees.

''When do we want 'em?'' Baldwin called out.

''Now.''

''I can't hear you,'' Baldwin admonished the DFW chorus.

Neither, apparently, could Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly, who along with Chairman Herb Kelleher, was at an employee event inside the airline's headquarters building on the other side of Love Field and missed the fly-over.

''They didn't see the plane,'' said King, the Southwest spokeswoman, ''but we appreciate DFW's costly gesture.''

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