Open Skies, Open Market

On Sunday, some folks flying into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport from Europe will be doused with, ah, “Showers of Affection” courtesy the airport's fire department. Well, technically, only the plane's will get doused as they taxi to the gate; passengers are free to get wet however they see fit after landing. Still, that’s just the beginning of “Super Sunday,” celebrating the industry’s new “Open Skies” agreement.

DFW's Web site is currently rocking a “Countdown Clock” that's ticking down the moments until March 30, which will see the largest single-day expansion of international air service since the airport opened in 1974. And travelers who love Europe will reap the benefits.

Till now, there have been no non-stop flights between DFW and Heathrow Airport in London or many other important European airports. Michelle Higgins, writer of the Practical Traveler column, pointed out on Sunday in The New York Times that trans-Atlantic flights have been governed by separate agreements between the U.S. and individual European nations. The pacts required airlines to take off or land in their native countries and limited which airlines could serve certain airports.

Signed last year, the “Open Skies” agreement allows airlines based in the United States and Europe to fly across the Atlantic between any two airports in each region.Suddenly DFW fliers will not only see more flights to Europe, but more competition could bring down fares.

“We don’t even begin to get a glimmer of the possibilities of open-market competition yet,” Cheapflights’ Jerry Chandler told Higgins. “There could be a lot of flourishing of routes in markets that currently don’t exist, especially from smaller U.S. cities to European hubs.”

It may take a while to see fares drop, given the high price of jet fuel. And the pound and Euro are killing the dollar. But somebody has to go to Europe to keep all those museums and pubs in business. “Open Skies is a terrific step forward in international aviation competition that will benefit DFW passengers for decades to come,” says DFW's CEO Jeff Fagan in a media release. “The global changes that take affect this Sunday will enable business and vacation travelers to choose new non-stop service to London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol and seamless connections to more than 200 additional locations Europe, Africa and India.”

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines begins daily flights to Amsterdam, while American Airlines will, vby April 13, have two daily flights to London Heathrow, which, of course, was once verboten. (DFW passengers will no longer have to change planes at Gatwick to catch a flight from Heathrow to Rome.)

Plenty of reasons to celebrate. So this Sunday, when passengers on those inaugural flights arrive at DFW, fire trucks will shoot their hoses in the air, Ghostbusters-style. At the gates for departing inaugural flights, and depending on their destination, passengers will be feted with Dutch klompendansers, chocolates and a giant windmill cake; or Queen Elizabeth impersonators, Royal Guardsmen, Dutch maids, bagpipers and a Beatles cover band. Teas, snacks and trinkets from each country will be lavished upon them. Arriving passengers will get “commemorative” DFW cowboy hats with airline logos.

If that’s not enough of an excuse to catch a flight to London, I don’t know what is. --Glenna Whitley

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