DALLAS, Texas (CBS 11 NEWS) – Virgin America created a public relations stir two weeks ago, when it landed at Dallas Love Field to announce new flights on Southwest Airlines’ home turf.
But for months now, records show Southwest has worked behind the scenes to get the two gates that American Airlines must give up.
CBS-11 obtained two dozen letters sent in March and April to the U.S. Justice Department and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on Southwest’s behalf.
The letters are from elected officials here in North Texas and across the country, and local organizations including the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce.
The group’s President, Galileo Jumaoas says he backed Southwest because it’s a member of their chamber.
“Southwest Airlines approached me to help with this matter. First of all, we don’t know Virgin America. They’re not our members. Second, they haven’t approached me for any assistance or clarification on their move.”
Delta Airlines also lobbied the city for the gates.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson rallied public support his own way. He flew to Big D and threw a big party at the Rustic restaurant.
Virgin America also created a new website freelovefield.com and asked people to sign a petition supporting them.
The airline then released a tongue and cheek video in which Branson called a “Love Letter” to the airport. On the video, he says, “Others would keep you all to themselves. I invite competition of your affections.”
SMU Economics Professor Bernard Weinstein says the companies and their tactics couldn’t be any different.
“Southwest is taking the traditional route, let’s face it: Virgin America isn’t that well known in this community so Mr. Branson comes to town and puts on a show.”
In the end, Virgin America had something the two other airlines didn’t: The backing of the U.S. Justice Department.
The government required American Airlines to unload the gates as part of its merger deal with US Airways.
The Justice Department told the city it only approved Virgin America for the two gates, and that it would reject any attempt to allow Southwest or Delta use them.
Dallas city manager A.C. Gonzalez announced he will decide by the end of the day Friday which airline will use the gates.
Earlier this week, some Dallas city council members told the city manager they didn’t want to get into a fight with the feds.
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