Get Ready for a Good, Old-Fashioned Airfare War

PHOTO: With the recent expiration of the Wright Amendment comes an opportunity for cheaper fares our of Dallas, Tex.Michal Bryc/Getty Images
With the recent expiration of the Wright Amendment comes an opportunity for cheaper fares our of Dallas, Tex.

Texans are celebrating the expiration of a fiendishly complicated piece of legislation known as the Wright Amendment and with good reason: Dallas now has cheaper flights.

But if you're not from the Lone Star State, is there any reason for you to get excited? Sure, and it can be summed up in two words:

Airfare war!

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned airfare war to warm the heart (and wallet) of an airline passenger and with the expiration of the Wright Amendment, watch ticket prices drop as much as 20 percent, a discount that works in either direction of travel.

After the seemingly endless parade of airline mega-mergers, competition was drying up. And we all know what that means for passengers: Fewer and fewer airfare deals.

So many travelers will cheer a fare war as a breath of fresh air. Certainly it's refreshingly simple compared to the Byzantine world of the Wright Amendment. Here's how it all began.

Dallas has two airports. The bigger and more familiar one is Dallas-Fort Worth International, or DFW, which opened its doors to travelers in 1974. Hard to believe now, but back then it was felt DFW needed to be "protected" from flights out of smaller Love Field, the city's main airport since the 1920s.

Protection came in the form of 1979's Wright Amendment, which may have been the last time we saw this level of congressional cooperation. The amendment prevented airlines at Love Field from offering non-stop flights to any city outside of Texas. This was later amended to allow non-stops to a handful of cities in a few Texas border-states but the message to business travelers was clear: If you wanted to go to New York or Chicago or the West Coast and do it the fastest way possible, forget Love, you needed DFW.

Remember how I said the Wright Amendment was fiendishly complicated? It was that and more, including incredibly paternalistic. Think about it: Have you ever heard of any other U.S. city where Congress controlled where or how far its citizens could fly? It's beyond bizarre but that's how it was in Dallas for 35 long years.

Which was just dandy as far as American Airlines was concerned. Since Delta downgraded its presence at DFW in 2004, American was (and is) the dominant carrier at DFW and has happily cornered much of the lucrative business travel market. Perennially popular Southwest, headquartered at Love, couldn't provide the direct flights that road warriors craved -- until now. Southwest has been champing at the bit and now with Wright finally lifting as of Oct. 13, it's show time.

And what a show it'll be as Southwest begins launching a slew of new non-stops to coveted destinations. Best of all, it's been offering tickets for these flights at rock-bottom prices to entice a new generation of business travelers. Of course, Southwest isn't out there all alone; American will do its darnedest to match the new, cheaper fares so as not to lose a single, laptop-toting passenger. As for those of us who don't live in Dallas, don't worry, the cheap fares are available for travelers coming or going.

Of course, a fare war isn't a true battle with only a couple of combatants, but fortunately Virgin America has also entered the fray. The stylish San Francisco-based discounter began flying in and out of DFW back in 2010, then switched to Love Field earlier this year in anticipation of Wright's roll-back. Now the fun begins: I expect prices to/from Dallas to drop on average from 5 to 20 percent (or more) and this level of discounting will probably stay that way for at least six months. If you've ever thought about a visit to North Texas, now is the time.

Other interesting aspects to this "war": American Airlines has a definite advantage in that it offers many more flight per day than Southwest or Virgin, and that's important to business travelers when meetings run long or weather cancels flights. On the other hand, Love Field is a lot closer to downtown than the vast and remote DFW, plus Southwest and Virgin are both renowned for excellent customer service.

One final note: A last vestige of Wright prevents airlines at Love from flying to international destinations so don't look for non-stops from Dallas to Southwest's Caribbean islands or Virgin America's Mexican beaches -- at least not yet.

And let's hope this is the end of such Congressional involvement. But every time a politician gets stopped at security or hit with a bag fee, they seem to start yammering away about the need for new legislation.

Just what we need.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.