ABOARD AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 2590 - The last time Dan Hanson flew a long-haul flight out of Love Field, the Nixon presidency was reeling from Watergate, the country was close to pulling out of Vietnam and John Denver, the Carpenters and Roberta Flack filled the airwaves.
On Monday, 26 years later, the Dallas resident drove to Love Field to take part in aviation's newest rivalry. It was the first long-haul flight out of Love for Fort Worth-based American Airlines Inc. since 1974, the year that Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport opened its doors.
Even though American dominates D/FW, its largest hub, the airline is offering service from Love Field to compete with start-up carrier Legend Airlines Inc. Tiny Legend began flying long-haul flights from Love Field in early April. Its strategy: Attract business travelers, American's best customers.
"It's dÃ©jÃ vu," Mr. Hanson said, recalling how he had rented office space in the airport's east concourse after the major airlines moved to D/FW.
Many of the 42 travelers aboard Chicago-bound Flight 2590 were attracted to the flights by the promise of premium service and by the Love Field location. However, several responded to a call late last week from American, asking them if they would prefer to fly from Love Field.
One of those who readily agreed was Brenda Kimbrough of Garland.
"I like the room. I can sleep," said Ms. Kimbrough, an accountant who flies to Chicago every week. "There's no way I can sleep in coach."
She had previously experienced this all-first-class service when American tested its 56-seat jets on the D/FW-Chicago route a few weeks ago.
The world's second-largest airline has outfitted five reconfigured 56-seat Fokker F-100s with all first-class seats to match similar service from Legend.
Legend and American are battling for last-minute business travelers who regularly pay full fares but often get stuck back in coach. But some travelers will pay discount coach fares on advance tickets and fly in style.
For some frequent fliers, the service presents an opportunity to be rewarded for their loyalty.
Ms. Kimbrough, for instance, holds gold status in American's frequent-flier program. Yet she's found it difficult to get an automatic upgrade to first class because of an increase in platinum and executive platinum members, who rank higher than gold members.
"This is a special treat," she said.
Monday morning, she and her fellow travelers stretched out in the two-by-two leather seats normally found in the first-class cabins of other American planes.
Instead of bagels and scrambled eggs, they feasted on omelets and buttermilk pancakes and sipped champagne.
"I am getting really tired of turkey sandwiches and bistro bags," said Tom Gauthreaux of Plano, who works in software development for Perot Systems. "This is a great idea."
"My husband's jealous," said Leslie Justus of Dallas. "This is the best breakfast I've ever had on a plane."
Many of the passengers aboard Flight 2590 had not flown Legend, although several said they planned to do so. While American flies to Chicago and Los Angeles from Love, Legend flies to Los Angeles, Washington and Las Vegas.
Legend's planes offer more legroom, wider seats and free satellite television. American's advantages include its popular frequent-flier program and connections to a worldwide network of flights.
"American is hoping their frequent fliers are going to back them," said Tom Parsons, editor of BestFares.com, a Web site and magazine that tracks airfares.
From Love Field, American offers four daily flights to Los Angeles and five to Chicago. Legend provides three daily flights to Los Angeles and Washington and one to Las Vegas. But in the next few weeks, Legend plans to operate five daily flights to Los Angeles and four to Washington.
"We've been very pleased," said T. Allan McArtor, Legend's chief executive and president. "We've had some full flights."
American's new Love Field flights are adding plenty of seats on two routes that the carrier already serves with a multitude of flights from D/FW. American currently offers 22 round-trip flights between Chicago and D/FW and 16 to Los Angeles.
The airline has cut back a few flights on these routes at D/FW because of its new Love Field service.
Love Field has long remained closed to flights to cities beyond Texas and four nearby states. But in February, a federal appeals court ruled that airlines could fly outside these boundaries as long as they used planes with 56 seats or less.
The court decision paved the way for Legend's takeoff. American and the city of Fort Worth had sued the start-up carrier to keep it grounded.
Fort Worth and the D/FW Airport Board are now appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. American had until late Monday to decide whether to join the appeal, but as of late afternoon, the company was still debating the issue.
Unlike Legend's first flight, American kept hoopla for its new Love Field service to a minimum. Flight attendants, pilots and ticket agents wore flowers on their uniforms.