Legend Had It

All this talk about the city coming in and seizing and probably tearing down the old Legend Airlines terminal at Love Field, lest the former owner sell out to some other still-unnamed commercial airline, is getting me wistful and teary-eyed. Seems like only yesterday (fine, six years ago) some of us were flying the friendliest of skies on the airline that offered first-class service at discount-carrier prices to such destinations as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. It really was an amazing airline, a swift kick in the ball bearings to other carriers that treat customers like cattle and our luggage like lepers. What's not to miss about an airline that served champagne and lobster to everyone on board, offered DirecTV on the back of every seat and enough leg room to keep even Shaq comfy all the way to L.A.--and all for the low, low price of about $300. And just how did it get around the Wright Amendment, you ask? Well, ask only our archives:

"Although the Wright Amendment restricted interstate flights from Love Field to Texas' four adjoining states -- Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico -- Leadbetter found a loophole. The Wright Amendment allowed unrestricted flights to aircraft with 56 or fewer seats. His plan: Take large jets that normally seat 100 or more passengers and put in half the number of seats with twice as much room, and allow unlimited carry-on baggage."

That comes from a 2000 piece by former Observer writer Ann Zimmerman, who chronicled the airline's every move, from takeoff to eventual crash landing, before she flew the coup for The Wall Street Journal. In this cover story from 1997, Ann described founder Bruce Leadbetter's discovery that the Wright Amendment "rivals the Kennedy assassination in the amount of emotion, suspicion, and controversy it engenders locally." This story from November 1998 detailed the extensive litigation wrought by Wright and Legend's attempts to get around it legally. Her piece included this nugget: "Fort Worth's lawsuit claims the DFW Airport bond ordinance, approved by Dallas and Fort Worth to provide funding for DFW, limits operations at Love Field in order to protect DFW from competition, but the federal courts ruled in the past that it does not." The more things change, alas. And, in 2000, came this piece about Legend's finally getting off the ground--after it had spent millions in court, millions it didn't have and needed to keep it from closing just months later.

All of Leadbetter's most noble intentions--basing the airline at Love to attract "businessmen in a hurry," "revitalize an economically depressed area of Dallas" and provide Ledbetter's "aircraft-maintenance company, Dalfort Aviation, with a steady stream of business"--proved so much nada. And that's the legend of Legend, with its legacy an empty, barely used terminal the city wants to tear down to make American happy. How many times does an airline get to win, anyway? --Robert Wilonsky

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