DALLAS (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that Southwest Airlines can't kick Delta out of Dallas Love Field while the airlines fight over space at the airport.
U.S. District Court Judge Ed Kinkeade said that Delta passengers would be inconvenienced if the carrier had to move its flights while the courts handle a lawsuit over the dispute.
Delta Air Lines Inc. has five daily flights at Love Field. Southwest Airlines Co. operates 180 and controls 18 of the airport's 20 gates.
A spokeswoman for Delta said the Atlanta-based airline was pleased with the ruling. A spokesman for Southwest said the ruling wasn't the end of the case and the company was considering its options.
Southwest, which is headquartered next to the airport, could appeal the judge's injunction. Either way, the case could wind up going to trial.
Delta had used gates leased by United Airlines, but Southwest paid United $120 million to sublease those gates, then tried to evict Delta. Airport rules allow new competitors to use gates if they are idle long enough for more flights.
The judge said that Southwest and the city of Dallas, which owns the airport, were "playing a game of musical chairs" to deny space for Delta. He said that Delta is likely to win a breach of contract claim against Southwest.
Kinkeade's ruling came three months after a hearing that provided a rare glimpse into the time and money airlines will spend to block a competitor and dominate an airport.
In an email that surfaced because of the case, Southwest's CEO told a city official the airline would invest its money elsewhere if the city let Delta keep using the gates.
During the hearing Kinkeade told a Southwest executive, "This is about as sharp-elbowed a deal as you can do."
Southwest has long dominated Love Field, which is smaller than Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport but closer to downtown and some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Dallas.
David Koenig can be reached at http://twitter.com/airlinewriter