Wright wrong, Ensign says
In June, Reno radio reporter and occasional RN&R contributor Carol Cizauskas wanted to go to Dallas for a funeral. She never made it. She ran afoul of the Wright Amendment.
“I was frustrated,” she says. “I actually felt pretty angry that I just couldn’t simply and easily fly into a major city like Dallas and be able to attend a dear friend’s son’s funeral and afford it.”
Her travel agent told her that in buying a round trip ticket, because of the Wright Amendment, she would have to land at a distant Texas airport instead of Love Field, which is located inside Dallas.
“I would have had to fly into a city three hours away, rent a car, and drive all that distance,” she says. “And I guess what really makes me angry is that the Wright Amendment was set up to protect special interests.”
Now, legislation proposed by Sen. John Ensign may solve problems like hers.
The Wright Amendment, one of the weirder cases of government regulation, was enacted in 1979. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Wright, then representing Fort Worth, it was a response to the success of Southwest Airlines, based at Love Field in Dallas.
Following airline deregulation, Southwest announced plans to enter larger passenger markets and provide interstate service. That upset officials at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW), which had been built under an agreement (to which Southwest was not a party) that Love Field would be shut down after DFW’s construction. With Southwest continuing to operate at Love, it drained off business from DFW and its airlines, such as American.
So Wright got an amendment passed restricting air service at the Dallas facility. Love Field could only be used for passenger service on regular mid-sized and large aircraft to locations within Texas and four nearby states (Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico). Long-range service to other states was permissible, but only on commuter flights that could carry no more than 56 people.
The amendment prevented some airlines from ever operating at Love, but Southwest persevered and prospered. Passengers, particularly business travelers, became adept at devising means of getting around the provisions—flying from Love to Houston, for instance, and then on to whatever the final destination was.
But going through such machinations was unpopular. Nevertheless, the amendment—while slightly changed in 1997—remained in place, and Fort Worth kept pressuring or suing for strict enforcement. The complicated Love Field regulations discouraged not just travel from Dallas but incoming travel as well, as in Cizauskas’s case.
There have been numerous bills introduced this year to deal with the dispute. Ensign is jumping on a crowded bandwagon. One of the measures, House Resolution 3383, was titled the “What’s Love Got To Do With It Act.” Another measure, sponsored by Sens. Jamed Inhofe and Tom Harkin, would close Love Field to commercial traffic altogether, leaving it for military, corporate and other general aviation uses. This would be in keeping with the long-ago plans to close down Love to commercial traffic, and American Airlines praised the measure.
Ensign’s Senate Bill 1424, cosponsored by John McCain, Sam Brownback and Joe Lieberman, would simply repeal the Wright Amendment, allowing unrestricted commercial traffic at Love.
In a prepared statement, Ensign said, “This is a free-market issue with dramatic ramifications not just for Texas but for passengers throughout the entire country. The Wright Amendment is an idea whose time has gone. … Customers, in this case airline passengers, benefit when competition is allowed in a free market. “
American Airlines spokesperson Will Ris told the Fort Worth Star Telegram that Ensign’s bill would offer Southwest an “unprecedented federal monopoly from Love Field” because of growth plans adopted by Dallas for Love Field.
Ensign’s bill drew media attention to the support he has received from Southwest. The Southwest Airlines Freedom Fund Political Action Committee gave Ensign’s reelection campaign $2,500 in May, on the same day that Southwest board of directors chair contributed $2,000. Ensign denied any linkage.