Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

Check out close-in, cuddly Dallas Love Field compared to distant DFW (

Check out close-in, cuddly Dallas Love Field compared to distant DFW (

In Dallas, nearly everybody loves Love Field. It’s compact, recently renovated, and only seven miles from city center. Nearly everything about it is the opposite of the mammoth Dallas Ft Worth Airport located in the city’s far western suburbs.

Last month, Southwest Airlines announced a slew of new nonstops from its base at Dallas Love Field (DAL) due to upcoming changes in federal regulations. Interestingly, none of the new flights included a Bay Area airport and I immediately saw this as an opportunity for Virgin America. Especially since Virgin America CEO David Cush is from Dallas, worked for American Airlines there, and has deep connections in the city.

When I contacted Virgin last month about possibilities at Love Field, a spokesperson said that the carrier “would be very interested in expanding service into Dallas Love should the opportunity arise.”

Dallas Love Field...the color scheme looks very Virgin America, don't you think? (Photo: Hensel Phelps)

Dallas Love Field…the color scheme looks very Virgin America, don’t you think? (Photo: Hensel Phelps)

Sounds like that opportunity is at hand. Here’s what Virgin said today about plans for Dallas Love- where it hopes to move operations as soon as this October:

Virgin America today announces plans to significantly expand its Dallas presence by operating new daily nonstop flights from Dallas’ Love Field (DAL) to New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).   In addition …the airline plans to increase flights to current destinations (San Francisco and Los Angeles) from Dallas.

Virgin America is seeking to secure two Love Field gates in order to expand flight options for Dallas travelers, as the airport’s centralized location makes it a more convenient choice for Dallas-based and Dallas-destined business travelers.  If successful, the airline would move its current operations from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Love Field in October 2014.

Virgin America’s service to and from DAL would begin from October 2014, after the expiration of the Wright Amendment, which has restricted flights at Love Field since 1979.  The airline would plan to operate daily nonstop flights from October 2014 and would announce full schedules for the following routes should the Love Field gates be approved:

*      DAL to LGA (four roundtrip flights a day).

*      DAL to DCA (four roundtrip flights a day).

*      DAL to LAX (three roundtrip flights a day, expanding to four in 2015).

*      DAL to SFO (three roundtrip flights a day, expanding to four in 2015).

In addition, the airline would add two roundtrip flights a day from DAL to Chicago O’Hare in early 2015.

As you may recall from previous BAT posts, Virgin has been busy snapping up slots and New York LaGuardia and Washington National, but has been mum about what it was going to do with them. Now we know what it is hoping to do with four of them.

But it snagged six slot pairs at LaGuardia, and the Dallas Love plan would only use up four. What about the other two slots?

I’m still holding out great hope that somehow, some way Virgin will be able to convince the feds to grant an exception to LaGuardia’s perimeter rules, allowing it to use the left over slots at LaGuardia to operate nonstops from both SFO and LAX into the heart of NYC at close in, convenient La Guardia. Imagine that?? Land in New York and get to Manhattan in 15 minutes instead of 45? That’s what I call a “BAT dream!” 

Moves like this make Virgin a much more attractive alternative to business travelers, which are key to its long term success…as well as its ability to look good enough to investors to pull off an IPO this later this year.

All of this requires approval government approval. For example, in Dallas, Delta Air Lines is also gunning for gates at Dallas Love, but it’s not clear if there is room for Delta AND Virgin (and Southwest). Both have good arguments why they should get the gates. But if the government has to choose one or the other,  I think Virgin will likely win given the current environment.

Delta is now the second largest airline in the country and is acting like it (see Delta’s recent change to its SkyMiles program). The DOJ nearly nixed the American-US Airways merger due to competitive concerns. Virgin is a young fun upstart hoping to break into a new market and spread its wings east from its SFO and LAX hubs. Approving Virgin America for those Dallas Love gates just has better optics for the government than giving them away to the Delta behemoth.

Delta and Virgin are now waging a PR war over the gate space at Love Field.  Delta assumed that its application for the slots was a slam-dunk, so much so that it has already started selling seats on its proposed flights out of DAL. When Virgin made its intentions known, Delta fired off a press release stating why it thought it should have the slots, or why it thought both Delta and Virgin could enter the market. Responding to this, a Virgin spokesperson told The BAT: “We believe that Delta is not eligible for these assets. In response to the creation of now four ‘mega-airlines,’ the DOJ has provided clear guidance that any new entrant at Love Field would need to be a low-fare carrier that would provide new competition — particularly in markets like these, where increasing airline consolidation is limiting choices for the traveling public.”

Barbie Cobb, CEO of hat maker Brim Couture in Dallas, flies frequently between Dallas and the Bay Area. “Dallas Love is definitely the preferred airport among folks who live in town, especially since the renovation. To have Virgin America flying from there would make it even more attractive. Beautiful Virgin planes at beautiful new Love Field. I love that idea,” she said. However, it remains to be seen if business travelers are willing to give up the American Airlines AAdvantage or United MileagePlus miles and choose Virgin instead. Perhaps flights from Love Field could provide that competitive edge.

Do you fly to Dallas much? Would you prefer to fly into Dallas Love field instead of distant DFW? What do you think about the possibility of Virgin flying nonstop SFO to New York LaGuardia? Please leave your comments below. 

-Chris McGinnis  

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