Sir Richard Branson makes a plea for a place at Love Field

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on May 5, 2014 at 11:09 PM

DALLAS — He does not go quietly anywhere he goes. Virgin America airlines founder Sir Richard Branson walked into a party at The Rustic in Dallas Monday night, and every head turned.

The international entrepreneur hammed it up for cameras and posed for dozens — if not hundreds — of pictures. He drank a beer and even took a pint of Blue Bell ice cream as a gift from local businessman Mitch Butler. (It was Rocky Road flavor, "because every upstart was at some point a rocky road," Butler explained.)

The Department of Justice told American Airlines it must give the two gates it owns to Virgin America. American must vacate those gates as part of its bankruptcy and merger with US Airways.

Late last month, Virgin announced it was moving its North Texas operations from DFW Airport to Love Field, but it did so without having final approval from the City of Dallas.

The city manager must sign off on the disposition of those gates, and a city-funded survey said they should go to Southwest.

"Southwest, they've done incredible things in America, but they're now the biggest airline in America," Branson told the crowd at The Rustic. "They're no longer the 'David,' they're the 'Goliath.' And sometimes the Goliath needs a little bit of competition."

He said Virgin is asking for just 10 percent of the gates at Love Field, and said competition will make the entire airline industry better.

Branson lauded Southwest and spoke about meeting Southwest founder Herb Kelleher.

At least two Dallas City Council members were at the party, but the mayor's office would not confirm whether Branson has a meeting scheduled with Mayor Mike Rawlings or City Manager A.C. Gonzales.

Branson said he flew a long way, "hopefully for a good reason."

He took a shot of tequila and crowd-surfed after telling attendees he is hopeful in the next few days that "sense will prevail."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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