The City of San Antonio has reached an agreement with federal officials to offer Chick-fil-A a lease at the airport, but the city attorney disputed an assertion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the move.

Claiming a “victory for religious freedom,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Sunday on Fox News that San Antonio must allow Chick-fil-A to open at the San Antonio International Airport. But City officials say this latest development in the ongoing saga over a Chick-fil-A franchise at the airport is the result of an informal resolution process. 

“Unfortunately, what the AG did yesterday was inappropriate on a lot of levels, but first and foremost, he mischaracterized what’s actually happening,” said City Attorney Andy Segovia. “He said that we were ordered to have Chick-fil-A back in the airport. That’s patently false.”

The City has agreed to offer Chick-fil-A a lease opportunity for space in Terminal A of the airport within 45 days of Sept. 10, the date on an FAA letter outlining the agreement. It also states that the terms in the new offer will be “reasonable and consistent with customary business practices.”

Chick-fil-A did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the Associated Press reported that the Atlanta-based company said it was not currently seeking a spot in San Antonio’s airport.

“While we are not pursuing a location in the San Antonio airport at this time, we are grateful for the opportunity to serve San Antonians in our 32 existing restaurants,” the company stated in an AP article.

Controversy over whether Chick-fil-A was unfairly shut out of an airport concession contract began in March 2019 when City Council voted in favor of the contract as long as it eliminated Chick-fil-A from the lineup of shops and restaurants. Some council members cited the company’s history of anti-LGBTQ actions. 

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and others on City Council said the move was based on business considerations, such as the fact that the restaurant chain is not open on Sundays. Paxton opened an investigation to determine whether the decision violated freedom of religion protections, and the FAA began an investigation in response to the attorney general’s complaint alleging the City discriminated against Chick-fil-A.

Jonathan Klein, acting director of the National External Operations Program in the FAA’s Office of Civil Rights, said Paxton asked the FAA to look into the City’s compliance with the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 and FAA Airport Improvement Program Grant Assurance 30. Both prohibit FAA grant recipients from excluding individuals from airport programs on the basis of religious creed. 

In keeping with Department of Transportation rules, the FAA then invited the City to enter into discussions for an informal resolution that concluded July 24. 

“The FAA is pleased to report that we have reached an informal resolution for the complaint investigation,” Klein wrote in a recent letter to Paxton.

Based on the FAA agreement, the City’s next step is to develop a commercial proposal through the airport concessionaire Paradies Lagardère, and present it to Chick-fil-A. 

The FAA will monitor that process to ensure it is completed in a timely, reasonable, and fair manner, according to the agreement, and if it is not, the agency could reopen the complaint investigation.

In an appearance Sunday on “Fox & Friends Weekend,” Paxton said the FAA “found there clearly were” violations of First Amendment rights. But Segovia emphasized the FAA did not order the City to allow Chick-fil-A an airport location or rule against the City for discrimination against Chick-fil-A, as Paxton stated. 

Segovia added that the City appreciated the FAA providing an opportunity to work out the matter informally – especially during a pandemic that has decimated airport passenger numbers and airline service schedules.

“We want to focus our resources on getting the airport back up to speed, getting the transportation industry [in] the recovery mode,” he said.

On Monday, Paxton’s office released a statement in which he said, “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.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.