Word came from the Texas senators' staffs later Thursday afternoon that Mr. Leahy could come to an agreement for bringing the Wright bill up under unanimous consent, a procedure used for noncontroversial measures.
The senators and their staffs started working on statements to be read on the Senate floor.
Ms. Hutchison reached out to House members about her progress, e-mailing and talking with Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, past midnight and into Friday morning, to ask her to wait for a Senate bill to come to the House to prevent further procedural delays.
By Friday morning, Ms. Hutchison was sitting in a cloakroom off the Senate floor working out how the bill would come up under unanimous consent.
Mr. Leahy had been pushing a wilderness bill to move under unanimous consent, a measure that largely affected Vermont and New Hampshire.
Asked later if she was holding up his bill, Ms. Hutchison smiled. "Why would someone do that?
"Let's just say that we came to an agreement to pass both bills," she said.
The bill passed the Senate in less than a minute just before 1 p.m. Dallas time.
Then Mr. Cornyn and Mr. Leahy engaged in a colloquy, a discussion on the Senate floor that allows lawmakers to share their thinking for the record.
The dialogue does not offer the force of law but gives judges an opportunity to glean congressional intent in a court challenge over the antitrust issue.
"Senator Cornyn and I share a concern about providing antitrust immunity to agreements involving private parties," Mr. Leahy said. "While I would prefer greater clarity on this point in the bill, I am pleased that Senator Cornyn and I agree that this is an entirely unique situation, which should not be repeated."
Mr. Cornyn agreed that "the legislation contemplated here should not be a model for any future arrangement.
"In no way can I imagine a situation arising with a set of facts remotely similar to that created in Dallas by the passage of the Wright Amendment," he said.
Mr. Cornyn, who serves on the judiciary committee with Mr. Leahy, said later that ending the impasse was a matter of talking through the details of the Wright law and the uniqueness of the situation.
"We had to explain to him that actually this increased competition rather than decreased competition," Mr. Cornyn said. "That was one of the hard things for people to understand because of the unique nature of the Wright amendment."
Ms. Hutchison, who urged North Texas officials early in the year to come up with a solution, said the Wright legislation took "an inordinate amount of time for a bill that shouldn't have been this complicated."
"I have to say that in my 12 years in the Senate, the hardest thing that I've ever had to explain was the Wright amendment to outside people," she said.
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller was euphoric Friday afternoon. She'd feared the Senate would be the bigger obstacle.
Ms. Miller said she was confident the terms of the bill would protect Dallas from losing a court challenge, due to a dedicated North Texas delegation and attorneys who worked around the clock.
"Without the language crafted in the Senate ... we would have a huge problem," Ms. Miller said.
Friday's actions followed a nearly two-year fight over the Wright amendment and Love Field.
In November 2004, Southwest Airlines announced that it would lobby Congress to lift the flight restrictions.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, introduced legislation the following May to repeal Wright completely, spurring lawmakers nationwide to pick up the cause to win cheaper flights to and from North Texas.
But Mr. Hensarling decided not to back the compromise agreement, saying he could not support the nation's only congressional mandate on the number of gates at a local airport.
He sat quietly in the back row of the House on Friday evening to watch the debate. He planned to vote against the bill but did not fight the compromise agreement.
Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, who co-sponsored the original Wright repeal legislation with Mr. Hensarling, said the compromise was "not perfect" but still an agreement worthy of support.
Love flights to any location will be cleared after President Bush signs the measure, possibly as early as next week.
The vote is unlikely until after Labor Day, but the Senate could still act.
Backers suggest wording to address antitrust concerns
Hoping to force a vote on the law that limits flights to and from Dallas Love Field airport, Nevada Sen. John Ensign on Tuesday introduced legislation to repeal the Wright Amendment.