Southwest founder and Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher died last week. I once had a brief conversation with him and reflect on that below.
It was 2006 and the U.S. House Transportation Committee was meeting to consider abolishing the 1979 Wright Amendment. Impacted airlines were asked to take part. The Wright Amendment was a bill that restricted commercial air traffic at Dallas Love Field to the states that bordered it. It effectively provided protection to then newly-constructed Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, as regulators sought to cultivate DFW into a major international hub.
Southwest, which was the only carrier at the time to operate from Dallas Love, wanted the rule lifted so it could offer more nonstop flights from its Dallas home. It sent Chairman Herb Kellher to testify.
American Airlines sent then CEO Gerard Arpey. You might think he was sent to fight removal of the Wright Amendment. Not surprisingly, since American Airlines maintains a fortress hub at DFW, for many years Arpey argued that removing the perimeter rule would hurt consumers by prompting the airports to cannibalize each other. But not on this day.
Both AA and Southwest agreed that it was time to lift the Wright Amendment and essentially colluded to stave off competition for many years to come. The perimeter restrictions for nonstop flights would remain in effect until 2014 and the number of gates at LUV would be reduced from 32 to 20. That kept competition out while allowing Southwest to market “direct” flights (with no aircraft changes) beyond the Wright perimeter.
Both men were standing by themselves before the hearing began so I decided to approach them. I shook their hands and Arpey asked my name and asked me why I was at the hearing (At 19, I still looked like a kid back then). I explained that I loved aviation and law and was fascinated by this issue.
Kelleher leaned over and said, “Nice to meet you, young man.” I asked if he thought the Wright Amendment would be lifted and he nodded and said, “This is the day we’ve been waiting for.”
Sure enough, it gradually was. In case you are interested, you can read the transcript of the hearing here. It’s quite interesting, especially’s JetBlue’s anger over the deal.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but I did appreciate the willingness of both men to engage a young aviation fanatic. I’m also glad the two sides agreed it was time to repeal the Wright Amendment. It’s time to do the same at LGA and DCA…
image: Southwest Airlines