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City, FAA Agree On Plan For Potential Chick-fil-A At San Antonio Airport

A Chick-fil-A restaurant on Fredericksburg Road in Balcones Heights.
Bri Kirkham | Texas Public Radio
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A Chick-fil-A restaurant on Fredericksburg Road in Balcones Heights.

The City of San Antonio and the Federal Aviation Administration have agreed to a plan on whether Chick-fil-A can open a restaurant at the San Antonio International Airport. 

Under the FAA agreement, the city’s concession contractor will offer a potential space to Chick-fil-A. The restaurant then has to decide if it wants the spot. The San Antonio City Council will have the final say on approving the deal. 

In 2019, the San Antonio City Council voted to alter the airport concession contract and remove Chick-fil-A from the proposal, citing its donations to anti-LGBTQ+ groups which triggered backlash from religious conservatives.

Right after that vote, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a complaint with the FAA saying the city council violated religious liberty. The FAA opened an investigation shortly after.

Early Monday, Paxton said the FAA is requiring the city to offer Chick-fil-A an opportunity for an airport stall.

“This is a win for religious liberty in Texas and I strongly commend the FAA and the City of San Antonio for reaching this resolution. To exclude a respected vendor based on religious beliefs is the opposite of tolerance and is inconsistent with the Constitution, Texas law, and Texas values,” said Paxton.

However, officials with the City of San Antonio paint a different picture. While Paxton claims it’s a requirement, San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said it’s an agreement.

“The City maintains that at no point did it discriminate against Chick-fil-A. Any placement of Chick-fil-A at the San Antonio Airport is ultimately contingent on Chick-fil-A's continued interest and approval by the City Council,” Segovia said. “Unfortunately and ironically, AG Paxton’s false declaration of victory significantly jeopardizes the potential for a mutually beneficial and amicable resolution.”

The city’s agreement with the FAA says the airport concession contractor, Paradeis Lageder, will propose a plan for Chick-fil-A to hold a stall at the airport within 45 days. If Chick-fil-A decides it wants to proceed, the San Antonio City Council will hold a vote sometime later.

The agreement is considered an informal resolution.

“What that means is that they don’t file any complaints, they don’t make any allegations of wrongdoing, there’s not admissions of fault,” Segovia said.

In a Sept. 10 letter to Paxton, an acting director for the FAA’s National External Operations Program said if the city does not follow through, the FAA investigation will continue.

“The [Department of Transportation] Order encourages early informal resolution of complaints as an alternative to full formal investigations. Informal resolution can be initiated at any stage of the complaint investigation process. Accordingly, we invited the City to enter discussions for informal resolution, and the City accepted,” Jonathan Klein said in the letter.

The 2019 council vote to remove Chick-fil-A from the proposed concession agreement came from District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño who disagreed with the company’s donations to certain organizations that were deemed to be discriminatory to LGBTQ+ rights.

The decision took place right before the 2019 election for the city council and mayor’s office that year and it became a debate point for most city council candidates, including the mayor.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg later said part of the decision was based on Chick-fil-A not being open on Sundays, one of the busiest travel days at the airport.

Related: Chick-fil-A Never Landed At San Antonio's Airport — But Made It To The Texas Capitol

It caused a bastion of legal and legislative fights. The San Antonio Family Association filed suit last year against the city but an appeals court rejected the case last month.

During the 2019 session of the Texas Legislature, several bills dubbed “Save Chick-fil-A” were filed. One bill, SB 1978 would pass.  It forbids governmental entities from punishing businesses or people for past donations to religious organizations.

This agreement comes about nine months before the next city council election in May 2021.

When asked about the timeline for the steps of the FAA agreement, Segovia said it could take about six months before it’s placed on the city council agenda for a vote. 

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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