IF THE CIVIC AND BUSINESS LEADERS of Dallas and Fort Worth had gotten their way back in the sixties and seventies, the flight I took to Love Field on a steamy morning in late August would not exist today. Nor would Southwest Airlines, the nation’s largest (in terms of the number of domestic passengers boarded), richest, and most profitable commercial carrier. Every flight headed for the Metroplex—a graceless coinage if ever there was one—would be required to land at Dallas—Fort Worth International Airport, which opened in January 1974 on a plot of prairie between the two major cities that is larger than the island of Manhattan.
It is a familiar story by now that Southwest’s co-founder Herb Kelleher had to wage a twelve-year legal battle, from 1967 to 1979, against DFW’s two namesake cities and two airlines with now-forgotten names, Braniff and Texas International, to keep Love Field open. (Dallas even went so far as to make it a crime to land a commercial aircraft at Love Field.) Twenty times Southwest went to court and twenty times was victorious. No sooner had the final case been decided in its favor, however, than victory was snatched from its grasp by an act of Congress: the once-obscure but now suddenly famous Wright Amendment, fashioned by then— U.S. House majority leader Jim Wright, of Fort Worth, in 1979. The amendment, passed in response to Southwest’s just-inaugurated route between Love Field and New Orleans, restricted interstate flights from Love to the four states that border Texas; the planes could continue to remote destinations but the passengers who embarked at Love Field could not. The legislation addressed the nightmare scenario of the DFW-based airlines that one day Southwest, whose operations were largely limited to Texas at the time, would want to fly long-distance routes from Love that would draw Dallas passengers away