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Southwest and Delta Decide to Play Nice at Dallas Love Field—For Now

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In a battle reminiscent of the Hatfield-McCoy feud of the mid- to late 1800s, which earned a storied place in American folklore for the bitter dispute between the two families, Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines are duking it out over gate space at Dallas Love Field.

In a temporary truce, the two airlines have agreed to share space while they await a resolution of the dispute over gate use in court. For a few months, the agreement averts what would have been an abrupt end to Delta’s operations at Dallas’ second-largest airport.

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“Delta is pleased that Southwest has agreed to continue accommodating the five flights Delta currently operates at Love Field while the airlines pursue a long-term resolution in the courts,” a spokesperson for the Atlanta-based airline said in a statement.

Delta had been scheduled to exit the airport on July 6, following the conclusion of a sublease arrangement with United. United had agreed to sublease the same gate to Southwest, which already operates 16 of the 20 total gates at the airport, starting July 7. That arrangement would have left Delta with no space at the busy airport.

As the July 7 date approached, Southwest told Delta that it had to vacate the gate. Southwest insisted that it had the sole rights to the gate, and sought a temporary restraining order to physically block Delta from using it.

But Delta wasn’t going without a fight. It sought court approval to continue using the gate.

Delta maintains that it should be allowed to keep offering five daily flights to Atlanta, saying that it’s more convenient for customers who don’t want to drive all the way to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Southwest, meanwhile, is ready to give Delta the heave-ho and add more nonstop destinations.

Southwest and Delta share gate space at Dallas Love Field
Southwest and Delta share gate space at Dallas Love Field

Delta’s refusal to leave has led to a series of legal actions that continue to make their way through the courts.

In a move aimed at avoiding a July 7 showdown, the city of Dallas filed a suit against both carriers, seeking a resolution.

Delta said that it has sold some 20,000 tickets to Love Field through May 2016, and a mass cancellation could cause significant harm to Delta’s operations—not to mention travelers.

For now, both airlines have scheduled overlapping flights from the same gate, creating a nightmare for pilots, air traffic controllers and passengers. The airlines report high loads on their planes, and Love passenger traffic in general is up 50 percent so far this year.

The temporary resolution lasts through the summer, so air travelers shouldn’t face too many disruptions until maybe after Labor Day, when all parties are due back in court.

The outcome is anyone’s guess right now. Southwest has the home field advantage, but bigger market cap Delta has more muscle.

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