Monday, September 26, 2005

Set Love Free?

Before discussing the actual topic of today's post, I'd like to give today's First Amendment Award to Cindy Sheehan and the other 370 demonstrators who were arrested in front of the White House for the bullshit crime of demonstrating without a permit. Why should anyone have to ask the government to protest against the government? And the anti-First Amendment Award goes to Gene Feldman of the NC State ACLU (who I have had a class with), who wrote a letter to the Technician (link unavailable) criticizing the NCSU College Republicans for violating their demonstration permit while protesting against Sheehan's NCSU appearance. Dude... you're supposed to be protecting civil liberties, not applauding efforts to limit them.

Anyway, I just returned from visiting Danielle in Phoenix. I flew Southwest, since they have about the only affordable nonstop flight from RDU to Phoenix. While I was waiting for my flight out, I sat in the airport under a sign proudly proclaiming "Set Love Free." At first I thought it was a cheesy marketing campaign by Southwest, whose logo is a heart. It took me twenty minutes and a map to finally figure out what the sign meant - it is a reference to an obscure law called the Wright Amendment, and is the slogan for Southwest's campaign to get the law repealed.

Probably only policy geeks and North Texans are familiar with the Wright Amendment. It was passed in 1979 and limits flights out of Dallas' Love Field airport to neighboring states (thus the slogan). It has since been expanded to include Kansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Furthermore, if you live outside one of these states, you cannot book a connecting flight into Love Field. The effect of the law is to channel most out-of-state flights into Dallas through the behemoth Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The law was first passed to "protect" DFW, which was then a relatively new airport. Why DFW needed protection is anyone's guess - Love is a fairly small (32 gate) airport that could never hope to handle the amount of traffic that goes into and out of DFW every day. And certainly traffic generated by the roughly 5 million people in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex can fill up two airports - similarly-sized Houston supports two quite well. Indeed, most Wright supporters focus on the idea that repealing Wright would hurt DFW, but it seems that any decrease in DFW activity would be offset by the increase in business done at Love. Another argument in favor of Wright is the increased noise that would affect residents near the airport - but you've got to be fairly dim to live near an airport and not expect noise.

Indeed, the Wright Amendment seemed aimed at protecting American at the expense of Love-based Southwest from the start. American's lobbying power is likely the only reason why the law still exists - the congressman standing in the way of hearings on the issue, Joe Barton (R-TX), received campaign cash from American.

It's interesting that Republicans - supposed champions of the free market - would be on the side of the Wright Amendment. The law is obviously anti-competitive, and I can think of absolutely no reason why Wright is beneficial to anyone except American Airlines. Keeping this law in place amounts to a pointless corporate giveaway.

What's remarkable is that Southwest took so long to mount an organized public opposition to Wright. You would think that a transportation company whose home base is so severely restricted would be up in arms about the restrictions from the very beginning. But while Wright prevented them from launching a full-scale operation out of Dallas, it never really got in the way of Southwest's national success. Wright is a dumb law, but it makes a point: anti-competitive legislation alone does not prevent the most clever companies from succeeding.

Visit Southwest's campaign here.

And visit DFW Airport's campaign to keep Wright here.

4 comments:

Mike said...

Honestly, when was the last time the Republicans have been champions of the free market? I've never heard of the Wright Amendment (ironic to name an amendment restricting flight after the guys who invented it), but I must say from your description it doesn't seem to, you know, make sense.

The Cindy Sheehan thing with needing a permit sounds like bureaucracy at its absolute best.

Eddie said...

From what I've heard, the Wright Amendment isn't anti-competition at all. It's pretty common to restrict urban airports from expanding...the pollution, traffic and noise can reek havoc on communities.

If we are talking about fair competition, then Southwest expanding their monopoly at Love isn't really fair. If we want fair, free-market competition, Southwest should just move to DFW and compete directly with American, which it sounds like they're free to do at any time.

Anonymous said...

American Airlines got the Wright Amendment passed several years ago (right after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 was passed). One of the goals of the Act was to encourage the service of large metropolitan areas through multiple airports and AA felt threated by Southwest.

Here it is nearly 30 years later and American's "honey pot" is sweeter than ever: they now have nearly 85% of the market at DFW and a strangle-hold on long-haul traffic.

They've driven nearly everyone out of the airport and were even sued by the U.S. Dept. of Justice for anti-trust violations at DFW!

It's time to end Dallas' exemption from the Airline Deregulation Act and let North Texas residents and visitors get the same benefits as the rest of the country.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

You'd be surprised at the anger in North Texas over the Wright Amendment. American has chased virtually everyone out of DFW. AirTran announced a couple of days ago that it was cancelling its effort to run LAX-DFW service. Instead, its focusing on other markets like Chicago, Minneapolis and Boston, Orlando, etc.

The week before, JetBlue said they were going to pass on Dallas and fly to Austin instead.

Although it might sound unbelievable, low cost carriers have less than a 5% market share at DFW (and it appears to be shrinking!). In the rest of the country, it's more like 30%.