Nov 17 2006

Southwest offers Dallas flights

Birmingham News

By CHARLES R. McCAULEY

 

Southwest Airlines said Thursday it plans to add two daily nonstop flights between Birmingham and Dallas beginning March 11, raising its total of daily departures from the city to 21.

The flights will be the first directly to Dallas by the airline.

Representatives of the low-fare carrier announced the new flights at a press conference near its three gates on Concourse C at Birmingham International Airport. The flights will start at $49 one way, providing tickets are purchased 14 days in advance.

The new service results from expansion Dallas-based Southwest has undertaken since President Bush signed a law repealing the 1979 Wright Amendment, which restricted flights from Dallas Love Field to cities in Texas and adjacent states.

The amendment originally was passed by Congress in an effort to protect a young Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport from competition from Dallas Love Field by limiting the destinations and the size of commercial planes allowed, according to the Dallas Morning News. The amendment's repeal came in September, although it is expected to take years to remove all the restrictions.

Ron Ricks, a Southwest executive vice president, said among the limitations of the amendment was a prohibition on flights such as those between Birmingham and Dallas Love Field.

He said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, were active in helping to eliminate the restrictions.

"As a result of that action, we now truly have the freedom to fly between Dallas Love Field and Birmingham," said Ricks.

Southwest's experience in Birmingham began with nine daily nonstops to Houston, Nashville and New Orleans in 1987. It has been the busiest air carrier in Birmingham for many years. In September, the last month figures are available, it carried 83,986, or 35.8 percent, of the 234,392 people who got on planes in Birmingham that month. So far this year, it has flown 816,347, or 34.2 percent, of the 2.39 million passengers who have used Alabama's largest airport.

From Birmingham, Southwest customers can fly nonstop to 12 cities with direct and connecting service to 45 more destinations starting in March.

Airport managers are still hopeful that Southwest will restore air service between Birmingham and New Orleans. Five daily nonstops from the Magic City to the Big Easy were eliminated after Hurricane Katrina damaged Louisiana's largest airport and forced evacuations of residents and tourists.

Ed Stewart, the carrier's senior public relations director, said in a recent speech to Rotary Club of Birmingham that New Orleans was the top destination out of Birmingham and is among Southwest's top 10 considerations for restoration.

Ricks said Southwest would like to restore service to New Orleans, but it does not have enough airplanes to do so now.

"We don't take airplanes out of one market in order to add service to another market," he said. "It's not fair."

The airline is buying new planes, paying about $35 million for each, from Boeing.