Passengers load their luggage and obtain
their boarding passes at the AirTran Airways counter at Orlando
new air carrier is coming to Lambert Field — one that could
lower the cost of flying to the East Coast.
AirTran Airways, based in
Orlando, Fla., plans to announce today that it is entering the St. Louis market
on May 8 with four daily nonstop flights to Atlanta, with prices starting at
$59. On June 7, it will add a daily nonstop flight to Orlando, with prices
starting at $79.
AirTran's presence is strongest along the Atlantic,
"When they enter the market, they will certainly
affect the price people will pay to go east," said Brian Kinsey, Lambert
business and marketing manager.
AirTran's five daily flights will make up a sliver of the 351
daily flights at Lambert. AirTran's presence at St. Louis will be similar to
that of Frontier Airlines, which has four daily flights.
decision to enter the St. Louis market is proof that Lambert is on the upswing.
Nearly four years after American Airlines cutbacks in 2003, the number of
passenger boardings are steadily rising. Air carriers are replacing smaller,
regional jets with larger airplanes.
"We're slowly recovering," Airport
Director Kevin Dolliole said. "We're stable."
Another air carrier gives
St. Louis travelers more options, he said. "It opens more doors and more ways of
getting from point A to point B."
Southwest Airlines, now the airport's
second largest air carrier, entered the St. Louis market in 1985 with a handful
of flights to Kansas City and Chicago.
"There's always a potential as a
new carrier enters a market for potential growth down the road," Dolliole said.
AirTran operates its hub from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Airport, where it serves as the second largest air carrier. The company is a
subsidiary of publicly traded AirTran Holdings and is the world's largest
operator of the Boeing 717, which has 117 seats. It also flies the Boeing 737,
which has 137 seats.
The average age of AirTran's fleet is three years,
company spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said.
It's the only low-cost
carrier with a business class. Upgrades start at $40.
AirTran offers 700
daily flights and has 53 destinations in its route network. A traveler flying
from St. Louis will be able to fly to 36 of those destinations, Graham-Weaver
AirTran is entering the Phoenix market next month. In addition to
Lambert, the airline plans to announce today that it will begin service at yet
another airport, Graham-Weaver said.
The airline is pursuing a merger
with Midwest Airlines, which operates Midwest Connection flights at Lambert.
Midwest has rebuffed its approach.
Lambert officials began pursuing
AirTran in 2003, Kinsey said. He had hoped to have AirTran much sooner.
"We're sure glad they're here now," he said. "It's been a lot of work
for the entire staff."
In coming days, Lambert and AirTran officials will
work out such details as gate arrangements. Kinsey said it's not determined
which concourse the airline will use.
"This is great for us and it shows
the market is a good market for a carrier like this," Kinsey added. "We hope
this is the first of other announcements coming along soon."