But Carrier Vows It Won't Get Going
The financial resurgence of the airlines in 2007 has been
largely a story about what the industry calls load factor. Fewer
seats, more demand, fuller planes and less need to cut ticket
But in spots, there are still flights that have lots of empty
seats. Among them are most American Eagle flights out of Dallas
Love Field. Industry and media sources have calculated that those
flights average 35-to-38 percent full.
Or, as the Dallas Morning News observes, 18 people on a 50-seat
regional jet... just about enough for every passenger to have
his own private row.
Part of the problem for American Eagle is the dominance at Love
Field of Southwest Airlines, which has 20 gates to American Eagle's
two. That disparity is a hangover from a law known as the Wright
Amendment, a bit of market-fixing by Congress in 1979 which limited
routes available out of Love Field to protect Dallas Fort Worth
As ANN reported, American
began service grudgingly from Love in March 2006, shortly after
Wright Amendment restrictions were eased on flights into Missouri.
The airline -- which has its hub down the road at Dallas/Fort Worth
International -- began limited service within Texas and to
Missouri, with a mix of regional jets and mainline MD-80s.
The move was made ahead of a compromise on Wright, which went
into effect at the end of last year... calling for the
controversial amendment to expire in 2014. That changed the playing
field... and led some to believe American would chose to abandon
its money-losing operations at Love to return to DFW, as that
airport gained greater parity with its cross-town rival.
That didn't happen, though many wonder if it should have.
American chose to maintain its presence at Love... though its
American Eagle subsidiary has largely taken over operations there,
and the airline cut several flights to destinations including St.
Louis and San Antonio. Still, capacity rates on American planes
have averaged about half those on Southwest's flights.
It's a strategic move for American... as with Wright set to
disappear, other legacy carriers want more slots at Love Field, as
DFW grows more congested. So American Eagle will keep flying those
2/3-empty planes, and hope persistence and marketing can make
headway against Southwest.
It will be an uphill battle.
"We're going to
continue to work on improving the consumer awareness of our
schedule and our traffic at Love Field," said American spokesman
Tim Wagner. "But it's difficult competing against a carrier that
has really been entrenched there for 30 years. That's something
that we've acknowledged all along. Just like anybody competing
against an airline with a fortress hub, a term people like to use,
the entrenched carrier at Love Field has a large schedule and a
large network – and that's what we're up against."
Analysts are more succinct. In the words of Boyd Group airline
expert Michael Boyd, American is "having their heads handed to
them," adding the airline's customers prefer to fly from DFW
despite the more convenient access Love Field offers them. "They
backed themselves into a corner, and they have to get out of it, be
graceful and leave."
Aviation consultant Darryl Jenkins says American will continue
losing money at Love, solely in the hope of doing damage to its
"[E]very time I hear them say they're doing it for strategic
reasons, I presume they're saying they're losing money so they can
screw people," Jenkins said.