Branson pushes Virgin, but Southwest still fighting for gates

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on May 6, 2014 at 8:35 PM

Poll:
Which airline would you like to see get two new gates at Dallas Love Field?

DALLAS — Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire behind the Virgin Group, made a short trip to try and finalize plans to move Virgin America’s local operations from DFW Airport to Dallas Love Field.

"Doing a little bit of lobbying,” he explained, “trying to get the message out to the public about what we're here to offer."

Branson hosted a party at The Rustic in Uptown on Monday night, shot tequila and crowd-surfed as he tried to ramp up local support for Virgin to get two gates at Love Field over rival Southwest Airlines, which already dominates Love Field traffic.

The Dallas City Council gets briefed on the issue Wednesday morning, but City Manager A.C. Gonzalez will make the final decision since Dallas owns the airport.

Branson said he did not meet with Gonzalez, but did have a private meeting with Mayor Mike Rawlings.

“Look, obviously we had a very friendly meeting. We put our arguments across to him,” Branson told News 8. "We just wanted to make it clear that we believe the law is on our side."

A week and a half ago, in a much-publicized event, Vrgin America announced it was getting two gates at Love Field from American Airlines. American had to give them up to merge with US Airways.

But Virgin's announcement came before any agreement with Dallas was actually signed.

News 8 asked Branson whether he thought, in hindsight, that Virgin should have waited for an agreement before making the announcement.

“I don't know whether we've conducted it in the best way or not. I think we have," Branson said.

He also revealed that a sub-lease agreement between Virgin and American is finally complete and is being submitted to the city for consideration.

"I think that the finished paperwork was submitted today," he said.

Council discussion is likely to offer some political cover for the new city manager, but it remains uncertain how soon he'll decide.

"In the end, right normally prevails. We're obviously hopeful that this week, we'll have some good news,” said Branson.

If approved, Virgin plans to operate at least 13 daily flights from Love Field, which could result in the strongest competition Southwest Airlines has seen at its home airport in years.

Still, Southwest is not giving up. It’s urging its supporters to send e-mails to city officials with a link on its blog.

“These two gates should be assigned to the carrier that can provide the most value and highest return for North Texans who fly — Dallas-born, Dallas-based, Dallas-invested Southwest Airlines. With the Southwest plan, the real winner is Dallas,” the airline blogged Tuesday.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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