ST. LOUIS COUNTY — St. Louis Lambert International Airport announced Thursday that three airlines, including a new carrier, will add routes later this year.
American Airlines will fly to Austin, Texas; Southwest Airlines to Puerto Rico; and new carrier Boutique Air will service Tennessee.
Five airlines have added or announced 14 new routes from Lambert in the last month. Two of those airlines are new to Lambert. That signals optimism from airlines about summer travel post-coronavirus, Lambert Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said.
“The thing that’s really encouraging about it is they’re responding very much to the markets that are leisure-driven,” she said. “That’s clearly a response to the pent-up demand as a result of COVID and people just wanting to get back and do things again.”
“We’ve seen new demand all around,” Hamm-Niebruegge said. “We’re seeing people that normally might travel for vacation once or twice a year travel more. The pent-up demand for leisure, I think, is actually stronger than it was in 2019.”
Hamm-Niebruegge noted that 2019 was Lambert’s strongest year in the last 15 years for travel.
American will operate daily direct flights to Austin, beginning in September, with additional flights starting Oct. 7. Southwest Airlines will start weekly flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Nov. 13.
Most of the new routes are to vacation destinations — among them San Juan, Puerto Rico, Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Orlando, Florida — but Hamm-Niebruegge said business travel is also slowly recovering, which is the core of the airport’s customer base.
“It’s going to recover and it’s going to take a little longer,” she said. “I flew out this week for business and the airplane I was on was 100% full, both coming and going. Every day, we see more and more of the business travel coming back, but it’s certainly a piece of the pie that’s not 100% yet.”
New carrier Boutique Air will fly daily to Jackson, Tennessee, a large town between Memphis and Nashville in West Tennessee. Passengers can also connect to Atlanta through Jackson.
Boutique Air uses small Pilatus PC12 aircraft with only eight seats for passengers. The small planes allow passengers to “truly experience flying private for the cost of commercial,” a Boutique spokesman said.
Boutique becomes the 14th airline to fly out of Lambert after Spirit began operations last month.
The increased interest from airlines and travelers alike paints a good picture for the future of Lambert, which is owned by the city of St. Louis, Hamm-Niebruegge said. Airport privatization has been a political topic for years, and Lambert has been saddled with significant debt.
“We have proven in recent years our ability to manage through crisis and to get where we were a few years ago as a very high-cost airport to a very competitive-cost airport,” she said. “Our debt continues to go down, and in upcoming years we will have significant reductions.”
Hamm-Niebruegge was especially encouraged by American Airlines’ expansion, because its new flights to Austin, Texas, and Boston, announced in April, show that it views Lambert as a bigger player, she said.
“We actually this summer have more destinations now than we did in 2019,” she said.