Wright Amendment Expires: Finding Cheap Flights to/from Dallas Just Got Easier

After 35 years, the severe restrictions of the Wright Amendment aimed at Dallas airports expire as of Monday, Oct. 13 – which is good news for Texas passengers but others will benefit too [see chart below].

What follows are useful things to know which may help when booking flights and looking for airfare deals.

LISTEN: Airfare analyst Rick Seaney had good news.

The Wright Amendment in a Nutshell

The Wright Amendment of 1979 affected two Dallas airports.

  • Dallas Love Field (airport code: DAL): Originally a World War I army training base, Love Field was purchased by the city in 1927 and for the next 40+ years was Dallas’ main airport. Dominant carrier Southwest Airlines is headquartered at Love.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth International (airport code: DFW): When the city needed a bigger airport, it built this vast facility (it has its own zip code). DFW opened in 1974 and soon became one of the world’s busiest airports by passenger traffic. Dominant carrier American Airlines is headquartered in nearby Fort Worth.

Wright’s effect on these airports: The Wright Amendment was designed to protect then-new DFW from “unlimited competition” from Love Field. This was accomplished by banning Love from offering non-stop flights anywhere except to other cities in Texas (this was later relaxed to include a handful of cities in Texas border states). Now, DFW is all grown up and Wright is no longer needed.

Cheaper Flights to/from Dallas

Most provisions of the Wright Amendment end on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. On that date, Southwest begins launching new non-stop flights from Love to more than a dozen cities and many airfare prices will drop.

  • Ticket prices drop: Airfares will drop on average from 5% to 20% from both airports on competing routes – and watch these lower fares remain in effect for the next six months.
  • Big winners: People who live in the greater Dallas area, of course, but also business travelers and other visitors to Dallas.

Airfare War? Yes

Watch for an old-fashioned airfare war which is always good for passenger wallets. In fact, it’s underway now and the main combatants are American, Southwest and Virgin America. A quick run-down:

Southwest Based at DAL: The popular carrier has been headquartered at Love since it began flying 43 years ago but Love’s lack of non-stops under Wright hampered the airline’s ability to attract high-paying business travelers. Now that Wright is out of the picture, Southwest is launching new non-stops to popular business destinations like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and more, all with discounted fares.

  • Southwest’s secret weapons: It’s reputation for great customer service, and the fact that Love Field is closer to downtown businesses than DFW.

American – Based at DFW:  DFW is American’s largest hub and the carrier has long been a favorite of business travelers, especially after Delta dropped many of its DFW flights back in the 2000s (though it still operates some). American, meanwhile, will do its best to match any new lower prices to keep every last one of its business travelers.

  • American’s secret weapons: It has many more flights per day to popular business destinations than Southwest, plus it has a well-regarded loyalty program.

Virgin America Based at DAL: This low cost carrier began flying out of DFW in late 2010 then switched to Love Field earlier this year in anticipation of the lifting of Wright. It hopes to compete against Southwest (and American) in this airfare war as a more stylish alternative for business travelers.

  • Virgin America’s secret weapons: It’s relatively new fleet, it’s popularity (and great marketing), plus easy downtown access via Love.

No International Flights from Love Field

There is one last vestige of the Wright Amendment still in effect which says no airlines can offer non-stops to international destinations from Love Field. Both Southwest and Virgin America now fly to international cities (mostly to beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean) but they cannot do so non-stop from Dallas’ Love Field. American’s many international flights out of DFW will not be affected.

Chart: The chart below offers a small sample of airfare price fluctuations; see the differences over the years in ticket prices for flights between Dallas Love Field and Baltimore (BWI), Los Angeles (LAX) and Washington, D.C. Note the dramatic savings seen post-Wright.

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Updated: November 7, 2014