Love Field was the primary airport for Dallas until 1974, when Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport opened. Love Field is now Dallas's secondary airport and serves as a major focus city for Southwest Airlines. Continental Express and American Eagle also offer service from Love Field.
Love Field's terminal building was dedicated on October 20, 1957 and was opened to airline service on January 20, 1958. The complex initially had three one-story concourses that were equipped with 26 ramp-level gates. Airlines serving the airport at the time included American, Braniff, Central (which was based in Fort Worth), Continental, Delta and Trans Texas (later Texas International).
Jet-powered operations began on April 1, 1959 when Continental Airlines introduced the Vickers Viscount turboprop. Turbojet operations began on July 12, 1959 when American Airlines initiated Boeing 707 flights to New York.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas via Love Field. After he was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in ceremoniously, at his own request, as president aboard Air Force One at Love Field, even though he had officially become president by default upon the death of Kennedy.
When the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth agreed to build the Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport (the original name of the current Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport) in the late 1960s, it was agreed that each city would restrict its own passenger-service airports from air-carrier operations. In addition, Fort Worth's Greater Southwest International Airport, immediately adjacent to DFW Airport's southern boundary, was closed and subsequently redeveloped into the CentrePort business park. Dallas' Love Field remained open as a vital part of the aviation infrastructure for North Texas, with general aviation operations, heavy maintenance businesses, and (for a time during the mid seventies) an amusement park located within the main terminal building.
Prior to completion of DFW, regularly scheduled service from Love Field included: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, Nashville, San Antonio and Mexico City (American); Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando, Shreveport, Birmingham, Jackson, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (Delta); Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Washington, Houston, Austin, Lubbock, Amarillo, San Antonio and Mexico City (Braniff International); Midland-Odessa, Lubbock, Amarillo, Albuquerque, and El Paso (Continental); New Orleans, Tampa and Miami (Eastern). Trans-Texas Airways provided service to Beaumont-Pt. Arthur, Texarkana, Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, Austin, Abilene, Wichita Falls, and Amarillo among other locales.
In 1973, the courts decreed that the City of Dallas could not restrict Southwest Airlines from operating out of Love Field, so long as it remained open as an airport. This ruling effectively granted Southwest the right to continue to operate its existing intrastate service out of Love Field. The airlines operating from Love Field at the time DFW was conceived executed agreements with DFW authority stipulating that no airline could operate at the new airport if it continued to operate any flights out of Love Field. Southwest, created after the other carriers had signed on to the DFW operating agreements, was not a signatory and was happy to remain at the older airport with its location within the city limits. Therefore, when the new airport opened, Southwest was the only airline remaining at Love Field.
With the drastic reduction in flights, Love Field had to decommission several of its terminals. The City of Dallas attempted to make a rather creative use of these otherwise dormant facilities by leasing some of them to an entrepreneur who opened the "Llove Entertainment Complex" in November 1975. The main lobby areas at the front of a former terminal were transformed into movie theaters, an ice rink, a roller rink, a huge video arcade, places to eat, and a bowling alley. Llove seemed especially suited for the pre-teen and teen crowd, who could spend the day for a single admission charge of about $3.50. Llove lasted until May 1978 when it closed for good.
Several former terminal buildings were later remodeled into support and training buildings for Southwest. However, over the following years Southwest's business flourished and general aviation and cargo business increased.
After deregulation of the U.S. airline industry in 1978, Southwest Airlines was able to enter the larger passenger markets and announced plans to start providing interstate service in 1979. This angered the City of Fort Worth and DFW International Airport, which resented expanded air service at Love Field. Therefore, Fort Worth-based U.S. Representative (later Speaker of the House) Jim Wright helped get a compromise law through Congress that restricted air service at Love Field. Using the pretext of protecting DFW, the Wright Amendment restricted passenger air traffic out of Love Field in the following ways: Passenger service on regular mid-sized and large aircraft could only be provided from Love Field to locations within Texas and the four neighboring states (Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico). Long-haul service to other states was possible, but only on commuter aircraft with no more capacity than 56 passengers.
While the Wright Amendment prevented any other major airlines from starting service out of Love Field, it did not deter Southwest. Based on short trips to begin with, Southwest continued to flourish as it used multiple shorthaul flights to build its Love Field operation. Some people managed to "work the system" and get around the Wright Amendment's restrictions. For example, a person could fly from Dallas to Houston or Albuquerque, change planes, and then fly to any city Southwest served — although he or she had, at the time, to do so on two tickets in each direction, since the Wright Amendment specifically barred airlines from issuing tickets that violated the law's provisions. This work around was also problematic due to the fact that between flights checked baggage had to be collected and checked onto the next flight. This had the effect of creating mini-hubs at Houston/Hobby Airport and the Albuquerque International Sunport. Southwest continued to grow and became one of the most successful and profitable airlines in the United States.
The passage of the Shelby Amendment caused several airlines to consider flying 56-passenger jets out of Love Field, including Continental, Delta, and a new airline, Legend. The City of Fort Worth immediately sued the City of Dallas to try to prevent the Shelby Amendment from going into effect. American, headquartered at DFW, joined the lawsuits against Dallas, but also said that if other airlines were allowed to fly out of Love Field, it would have no choice but to offer competing service. In 1998, after a year of legal decisions and appeals, Continental Express became the first major airline other than Southwest to fly out of Love Field since 1974. American began service out of Love Field shortly thereafter, but continued to sue to stop the service. Fort Worth and American Airlines eventually sued the DOT to stop allowing more flights out of Love Field.
In 2000, several Federal appeals court decisions finally struck down all lawsuits against the Shelby Amendment. Fort Worth and American Airlines appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to review the case. These legal decisions opened the door to increased long haul flights out of Love Field using 56-passenger jets, including new service by Delta and Legend. The majority of this 56-passenger jet market was composed of business travelers making day trips to other cities.
In 2001, the September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent recession greatly reduced the demand for air travel in the U.S., especially within the business traveler market. As a result, most of the airlines providing long haul 56-passenger flights stopped service and pulled out of Love Field. By 2003, Southwest and Continental Express were the only two major commercial airlines operating out of Love Field. However, due to Southwest's success and the possibility of other airlines returning in the future, the airport has completed an expansion of its parking facilities and is redeveloping one of its terminals.
Love Field celebrated 85 years in the aviation industry in 2002 and was designated as a Texas State Historical Site in 2003.
The Frontiers of Flight Museum was opened at the north side of the airport after having previously operated a small museum inside the airline terminal.
In November 2004, at a breakfast sponsored by the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Southwest announced their active opposition to the Wright Amendment, claiming that the law is anti-competitive and outdated.
As of November 30, 2005, Missouri was added to the list of states exempted from the Wright Amendment by an amendment written by Sen. Kit Bond. Southwest began nonstop flights to Kansas City and St. Louis on December 13. American Airlines and American Eagle began flights from Love to St. Louis, Kansas City, Austin, and San Antonio on March 2, 2006, although American Airlines subsequently pulled out of the market, leaving American Eagle to offer a reduced service to Austin and Kansas City alone. In 2008, American decided to terminate the Austin and Kansas City service and replace it with service to Chicago O'Hare International Airport (which Southwest does not serve) using 50-passenger regional jets in compliance with the Wright provisions regarding aircraft size.
After extensive negotiations with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the compromise bill passed both Houses of Congress on Friday, September 29, just before the 109th Congress adjourned for the November elections. Hutchison led the effort to pass the bill in the Senate while Rep. Kay Granger led a bipartisan Texas House coalition to see the bill through to a successful conclusion in the House. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on October 13, 2006. Southwest and American airlines then required approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin one-stop flights from Love Field to destinations outside the Wright limits.
On October 17, 2006, Southwest Airlines announced that it would begin one-stop or connecting service between Love Field and 25 destinations outside the Wright zone on October 19, 2006. American Airlines made travel between Love Field and locations outside the Wright zone available by October 18, 2006.
For the 12-month period ending October 31, 2007, the airport had 247,235 aircraft operations, an average of 677 per day: 39% general aviation, 37% scheduled commercial, 23% air taxi and 1% military. At that time there were 693 aircraft based at this airport: 3% single-engine, 4% multi-engine, 93% jet and 1% helicopter.