Wright Repeal to Soon Change Southwest Flights

Oct. 12, 2006
You'll be able to go to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Chicago fairly easily with just one stop.

Southwest Airlines Co. won't say where we can fly from Dallas Love Field until after President Bush signs legislation easing flight restrictions at the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration gives its OK.

But we've got some pretty good ideas, just by looking at Southwest's current schedule.

You'll be able to go to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Chicago fairly easily with just one stop. Baltimore, Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla., will be doable but not quite so easy.

And until Southwest does some serious fiddling with its schedule, the Northeast will take at least two stops - a journey only for those with stamina and a serious desire to fly with the Dallas-based discounter.

Right now, Southwest is waiting for the president to act on a bill that would repeal the Wright amendment, a law that limits nonstop or connecting flights from Love Field to airports elsewhere in Texas and eight other states.

The new law, expected to be signed this week, would give airlines the right to fly between Love Field and anywhere else, as long as they first make a stop inside the Wright perimeter.

Since the Wright amendment went into effect in early 1980, carriers haven't been able to sell a ticket that lets a Love Field traveler connect to a flight that goes beyond the perimeter.

But the pending law would allow "through ticketing," the sale of a ticket that would permit a traveler go through a Wright city to airports beyond the perimeter.

It would eventually allow nonstop flights beyond the perimeter to airports throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia, but not until eight years from the bill's signing.

Southwest, American Airlines Inc. and Continental Airlines Inc. all have flights from Love Field. But Southwest, with more than 120 daily departures there, has by far the most to gain.

Tom Parsons, publisher of Bestfares.com, said he expects Southwest to promote Dallas service aggressively to markets in which it's already big, such as Las Vegas, its top city with 224 daily flights, and to Florida.

Southwest will enter those markets with a splash, with Dallas promotional fares that will offer significant discounts to what travelers are now paying to many markets out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Mr. Parsons predicted.

"I don't think you're going to see many intro fares over $218 anywhere they fly," Mr. Parsons said.

Online schedule

The Dallas Morning News gained some insight about what could be quickly implemented through a flight schedule available this week on Southwest's Internet site.

That schedule, quickly removed after The News called it to the airline's attention, listed service between Dallas and the rest of Southwest's system, including cities currently unreachable with nonstop or connecting service.

Southwest spokeswoman Beth Harbin said the online schedule was the list of flights that employees could use to travel from Dallas throughout Southwest's network, even though the carrier couldn't actually sell similar tickets to the public.

Ms. Harbin said consumers will get their first look at what's possible from Love Field within a few days of the law's enactment.

"There could be some similarity" between the unofficial employee schedule and what will be made available soon to consumers, Ms. Harbin said. "But it's not the level of service we want to market from Dallas."

Southwest wants to adjust its schedule quickly to offer better connections to as many cities as possible, Ms. Harbin said. That will take a little time as Southwest coordinates the Dallas flights to those offered beyond the Wright amendment area.

"What we're trying to do is make up for 26 years of having a schedule like the one you saw," said Ms. Harbin, referring to the often-inconvenient, employees-only schedule.

What to look for

Having said that, an analysis of Southwest's current schedule, including the internal, nonpublic one, would indicate that:

*Travelers will have a lot of choices to get to Las Vegas, Chicago Midway and Phoenix, the three busiest airports in Southwest's system. The Southwest schedule shows 11 connecting flights from Dallas to Phoenix, 10 to Las Vegas and nine to Chicago.

Those numbers actually understate the possibilities. The schedule from Dallas didn't include any routings through Houston Hobby, which offers four nonstops a day to Las Vegas and five to Phoenix.

The same is true for Dallas to Los Angeles. The internal Southwest schedule lists six possible one-stop routings to Los Angeles through Austin, El Paso and San Antonio, but doesn't include any routings through Houston, which has four daily nonstops to Los Angeles.

*St. Louis will probably be the main gateway to the north and northeast, although Kansas City, Mo., and Little Rock, Ark., offer other one-stop possibilities. St. Louis would give a Dallas traveler a one-stop trip to Detroit, Omaha, Neb., Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky., plus a number of other cities.

Kansas City offers Dallas travelers the only one-stop possibilities to Indianapolis and Sacramento, Calif., along with flights to other cities.

* Travelers to Florida will likely go through Houston or New Orleans, although routings through St. Louis, Kansas City, Austin and San Antonio are possible.

* Many of Southwest's eastern cities will be hard to reach from Dallas. Manchester, N.H., Providence, R.I., Buffalo, Islip and Albany, N.Y., Washington Dulles, Norfolk, Va., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Pittsburgh will require at least two flights.

Philadelphia is one stop away, but only through Houston and only for a single evening flight each day.

* To the west, the major metro areas will be reachable in one stop - but not all cities within an area. Los Angeles International has a number of flights, but airports in Burbank, Ontario or Orange County do not. Travelers can get to Oakland on one stop, but not San Jose, Calif.

But don't call the airline yet. It won't be selling any of the new service until the law goes into effect.

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