Hot on the heels of JetBlue's successful start-up out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, another fledgling is flapping its wings. Legend Airlines, the Midwest Express (MEH) clone that, for a remarkable number of years, has fought American Airlines (AMR) , Fort Worth and the Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport Board for the right to fly, is finally about to begin service out of Dallas Love Field.
Legend, which readers
may recall has probably paid more in legal fees than most start-ups spend in initial expenses, held its official prelaunch party this past Saturday night in Dallas, an event I was pleased to attend. For one thing, I was mighty curious. And having left Dallas six months ago, the lure of margaritas and Mexican food was powerful.
After watching this airline -- and American Airlines' efforts to keep it out of the air for more than four years -- I wanted to see if Legend had managed to create the product it had promised to provide.
With no actual operations or financial information at hand, we can only evaluate the product itself: Will this product sell in the Dallas market? Has it been packaged properly? Does it seem like a product that can work operationally? And finally, is the management team in place to make the whole thing work?
First, a primer on the market. American Airlines essentially controls the hub at
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
has thrived at DFW's smaller predecessor, Dallas Love Field, thanks to an exemption that allows direct flights to anywhere in Texas and six contiguous states. The
, which regulates air traffic at Love Field, allows jets with up to 56 seats to fly from Love Field to any other airport.
And this is exactly what Legend will do. It has reconfigured DC-9 aircraft with 56 oversized (and in our opinion, extremely comfortable) leather seats, and it will provide passengers with upscale food and beverage service, a la the Midwest Express model. All of this will be offered at prices just a little below full-fare coach fares on American.
The airline is initially scheduled to fly to Los Angeles,
Washington Dulles International Airport
and Las Vegas.
To give you an idea of how strong the luxury senses were at work when I stepped inside the aircraft Saturday night, just think new-car smell -- only about 10 times as strong.
... the smell of fine Corinthian leather. Can't beat it. Think thoughtful touches like fresh flowers in special built-in areas of the bulkheads. Let's put it this way. This ain't no Southwest cattlecar. You feel more like you're in a private club.
While Midwest Express is known for baking chocolate chip cookies onboard, Legend has a few nice tricks up its sleeve for passengers as well -- although the carrier is being tight-lipped about particulars until it takes off.
For Legend, taking off has been hard to do. The carrier was shut out of using existing gates at Love Field three years ago, when American Airlines, suddenly in need of new office space, swooped in and leased the area that once housed another American Airlines nemesis, now-defunct
In retrospect, being forced to build its own terminal was probably a good thing, as Legend has constructed a beautiful, yet very functional, six-gate facility on the east side of Love Field. Legend CEO T. Allan McArtor told us Saturday evening that the build-out was done on a limited budget. If that's the case, we'd call it a great job of "deceptive dressing."
The interior of the terminal reeks of business-traveler amenities, such as full-time Internet accessed computers, hotel-lobby-style seating areas and lots of space to spread out and work.
In addition, the airline will take on one of the more annoying aspects of flying out of DFW airport head-on. The regional airport, located equidistant between Dallas and Fort Worth, sprawls across a patch of land roughly the size of Manhattan. It is jammed and takes hours to navigate, whether we're talking taking off, changing gates or getting out of the place. The total time elapsed last week from when I arrived, recovered my baggage, took a bus to the rental car site, got my car and finally escaped from the airport itself was two hours. Honest.
For those who live in Dallas, just flying out of Love Field cuts an hour off of that obstacle course. Those who fly Legend get an even better deal -- just drive to the front door of the new terminal, give the car keys to the valet, and then don't worry about the car until returning from the trip. Then, Legend says it will have passengers' cars ready to go as they leave the terminal. (The airline will retrieve cars before the aircraft arrives -- based on incoming passenger lists.)
And yes, there is a covered parking garage. (Think Dallas. Think hail. Think hot as, well, blazes.)
Finally, for those wondering just why American fought to keep Legend on the ground for so long, the answer should be obvious. American enjoys a very high revenue premium on select business-heavy routes in and out of DFW. Legend's business plan is to provide a business-traveler friendly product, priced just below the comparable full-fare coach fare on American.
Legend's product is a go; we like the management style and we like the fit with the Dallas market.
With final proving runs for the airline's
certification scheduled for this weekend, expect to see Legend in the air very soon.
Holly Hegeman, based in Barrington, Rhode Island, pilots the Wing Tips column for TheStreet.com. At time of publication, Hegeman held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site at
www.planebusiness.com. While she cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes your feedback at