American leads Legend slightly in passengers

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Passenger traffic numbers for the first month of competition between Legend Airlines Inc. and American Airlines Inc. show a close race for the pocketbooks of business travelers at Dallas Love Field.

Legend, a Dallas-based start-up, carried about 24 passengers aboard each of its planes during May, compared with about 27 passengers for American. At Love Field, both airlines operate 56-seat planes offering all-first-class seats and service at both full-fare and discount coach prices.

"The numbers are fantastic for a start-up carrier," said Stuart Klaskin, a partner at Klaskin, Kushner & Co., an aviation consulting firm in Miami. "But everyone gets a bounce from being new and novel."

American spokesman Al Becker said, "We're pleased with the response to our service."

For the month, a total of 14,114 passengers took off or landed at Love Field on an American flight, compared with 10,985 passengers for Legend. The American figures are from Love Field's Aviation Department; Legend provided its own numbers.

During the month, Legend operated 65 fewer flights than American, and the lease on its terminal prohibited it from selling more than 50 seats. The airline also did not begin operating all four of its McDonnell Douglas DC-9s until May 18.

"Our advanced booking, load factor and yield are all steadily increasing," said T. Allan McArtor, Legend's chief executive and president.

Legend and Fort Worth-based American compete directly on flights to Los Angeles from Love Field. Legend also flies to Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., while American flies to Chicago. Legend plans to start service to New York's LaGuardia Airport in early September. Unlike Legend, American has been able to divert some of the traffic on its flights headed to Los Angeles and Chicago from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Love Field. As of last month, American operated 22 daily round-trip flights between Chicago and D/FW and 16 to Los Angeles.

"We are continuing to call customers to see if they would like to move from D/FW to Love," Mr. Becker said.

Legend began flying April 5, targeting its service toward last-minute business travelers who pay high fares to fly at a moment's notice. About 65 percent of these so-called premium travelers in the North Texas area live closer to Love Field than to D/FW, according to American. To ensure these customers didn't switch to Legend, American started its first long-haul flights from Love Field since 1974 on May 1.

Legend's May numbers show improvement over its April figures. In April, Legend carried 3,442 paying passengers to and from Dallas and its three destinations during a 26-day period, according to statistics compiled from airports in these locations. Legend, which called the April numbers statistically insignificant, would not release its own figures for the month.

Airlines offering all-first-class seating and service remain rare in the industry. Of the several carriers that have tried developing such a concept, the only one to succeed is Midwest Express Airlines Inc. of Milwaukee, which served as a model for Legend.

"The growth of Legend Airlines is going to be dictated by the competitive presence of American Airlines," Mr. Klaskin said.

Love Field became a hot spot in the aviation industry in February when a federal appeals court opened the airport to long-haul flights for the first time in more than a quarter-century. Carriers at Love Field were previously limited to flying only to cities in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico. But the federal appeals court ruling lifted that restriction, provided that long-haul flights carry no more than 56 passengers.

The decision came nearly 21/2 years after American and the city of Fort Worth sued Legend to block long-haul flights at Love, saying such operations would violate a 1968 bond agreement that financed D/FW Airport. American, Fort Worth and the D/FW Airport Board are now appealing the federal court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the case could come by the end of this month.