DALLAS (AP) — A new era and increased competition has begun in air travel in the Dallas area.
Limits on flights at Dallas Love Field expired Monday after more than three decades, and Southwest Airlines Co. and Virgin America launched new long-haul service.
For Southwest, it means going head-to-head with American Airlines, which flies all over the country and overseas from nearby Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. For Virgin America, it means moving from DFW to Love Field and having better odds at the smaller airport.
A longtime federal law known as the Wright Amendment limited Love Field flights to Texas and a few nearby states unless the plane had 56 or fewer seats. Effectively, it blocked competition with DFW Airport. In 2006, after lobbying by Southwest, Congress agreed to let the law die in 2013.
Virgin America CEO David Cush said Love Field is more convenient than DFW for Dallas business travelers, and adding flights to Washington and New York will diversify Virgin's coast-to-coast network.
Virgin is counting on attracting lucrative business travelers with its first-class cabin, which Southwest does not offer, and on getting out from under American's long shadow at DFW.
"Absolutely we expect it to be easier to compete against Southwest," Cush said. Because American has a massive network of connecting flights at DFW, it offers about twice as many flights as Southwest to the Dallas area from other cities.
Branson, the flamboyant founder of Virgin Group, played cheerleader. He headlined a ceremonial flight from DFW to Love Field, which circled long enough for country music's Kacey Musgraves to stand in the aisle with her guitar and sing a few songs.
On the ground, Branson tweaked Southwest for giving passengers peanuts, but added his respect for the airline. "The competition begins today," he said, "but it will be friendly competition, and people will have a choice."
Nearby, Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher processed boarding
At a separate rally, Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest, which started flying in 1971, took note of his rival too.
"After 43 years, when it comes to Southwest and Love," he said, "we ain't no Virgin."
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