Southwest grants Delta temporary right to keep Dallas flights

By Jeffrey Dastin
A Delta Air Lines jet lands at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport near Baltimore, Maryland October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Jeffrey Dastin

(Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co has agreed to make room for rival Delta Air Lines Inc in its gates at Dallas Love Field Airport while the carriers await a long-term resolution of their dispute in court, the airlines said Wednesday.

Southwest will allow Delta to continue operating five daily flights between Love Field and Atlanta, according to a Delta spokeswoman. The agreement averts potential havoc for customers, with a gate-sharing arrangement between the carriers set to expire on July 6.

The two airlines had scheduled overlapping flights from identical gates at the space-constrained airport. The conflict has drawn in city and federal officials, with the city of Dallas suing the carriers last week in part for placing it in a bind.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas strongly encouraged Southwest to make room for its competitor temporarily, according to a source familiar with the matter. The airlines confirmed to the court Wednesday morning that Delta could remain at Love Field at least through Labor Day, the source said.

The court on Wednesday canceled a hearing on the issue that was set for June 29, according to an electronic court order. It pushed back deadlines to respond to competing motions by Southwest and Delta to July 17.

Delta has sold almost 20,000 tickets to Love Field through May 2016 and said a mass cancellation would "cause significant harm to Delta's operations," according to a court filing.

Southwest holds 18 of 20 gates at Love Field, its headquarters. It has planned to increase flights from Love Field in August, contingent upon regaining all takeoff and arrival slots from Delta.

The airline plans to proceed with the ramp-up despite Delta's accommodation by working closely with Delta to ensure efficient gate usage, according to the source, who requested anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Delta has 45 daily flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport but wants a foothold at Love Field, which some travelers prefer for its renovated terminal and proximity to downtown Dallas. It has petitioned to add eight flights in addition to the five it operates currently.

The spat is part of a larger fight for passengers in the Dallas market that has investors concerned that airlines will discount fares and hurt revenues because of a surge of flights from the city.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)