Twu Destroys St. Louis

TWU informer

Nov 4, 2003
Using TWU Logic and Attack Modes.

American Airlines Cuts Leave Vacancy in St. Louis, Mo., Airport
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Publication date: 2004-03-01

Mar. 1--St. Louisan Richard Green's flight to Atlanta wasn't leaving for another hour, so he wandered the vacant D concourse at Lambert Field that once teemed with passengers like him.
Now that American Airlines and its regional partners have consolidated their flights elsewhere in the airport -- a move that was completed nine days ago -- Green could count on some eerie solitude as he walked through the near-empty corridors.

Sure, you could still hear the light music and public address announcements in the background. A television continued to pipe in CNN to an empty gate. And there were a couple of airport employees within sight. But it wasn't the same airport he was accustomed to in St. Louis.

"It is kind of sad to see it so dead," Green told a reporter who interrupted his stroll on Friday. "It felt like a big-city airport. Now it sort of feels like a regional airport."

The quiet concourse is the latest indignity for the once-booming airport since its dominant tenant, American Airlines, made sweeping service cuts four months ago, but Lambert officials say they are scrambling to fill the empty gates.

After cutting half its schedule in November, the airline, based in Fort Worth, Texas, no longer needed the 19-year-old D concourse -- although its regional jet service continued to operate there until moving to the neighboring C gates on Feb. 21.

Airport Director Leonard L. Griggs Jr. said he was going to take advantage of the down time to order repairs to the notorious leaky roof, along with other rehabilitation work to the first few gates, which already are being eyed by another airline.

Nobody can say for sure how long the concourse will seem so empty. Griggs said an existing airline operating at Lambert might move its gates there by mid-April.

Walk the half-mile distance between the airport's main security checkpoints and the East Terminal and you'll pass the shuttered Starbucks, the Schlafly Tap Room.

The food court near the security checkpoint will remain open and so will the Cheers bar, although it is expected to get a new theme soon, airport officials said.

But sales were so lousy at the end of last month that the Pasta House on the other end of the concourse will cease offering sit-down meals until the traffic returns.

"It looks like a terminal that's unoccupied right now," Griggs said. "It's the same as if you didn't live in your house for a while."

Both airline and city officials are trying to put their best foot forward when the subject turns to the big void that's been left in the middle of the airport.

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, American's managing director in St. Louis, said passengers boarding large or regional jets will be able to make most of their connecting flights in the cheerier C concourse, where old floor coverings were replaced with new, blue carpets a few months ago.

The regional AmericanConnection and American Eagle jets will operate from the 10 gates on the south side of the concourse and the large jets will use 11 gates on the north side. The AmericanConnection turboprop flights will use the B concourse.

"It's like the old days," Hamm-Niebruegge said. "The C concourse looks like normal again. Traffic flow is very heavy. It gives the feel that, hey, things are good here again."

By consolidating the regional jet service to that part of the airport, the airline won't force people to walk past the empty D concourse gates. Still, some passengers find it a handy walking track -- a place to stretch their legs between flights.

"And there's nobody to get in my way," said LaDelle Mackeben of Minneapolis, who along with her husband spied the empty hallway during a layover between Tampa, Fla., and her hometown.

The narrow D concourse, along with its 18 gates, was formally dedicated 19 years ago today when it was home to Ozark Airlines, according to a plaque that hangs on the wall.

Since then, it has been the jumping-off point for millions of passengers flying Ozark, Trans World Airlines and, most recently, American. Hoping to bail out the struggling airline, the city of St. Louis bought the gates along with other equipment from TWA in 1993.

Griggs said that move put Lambert in a far better position than other U.S. airports that have been left with such vast banks of empty gates. He said the city would be able to market those gates and offer them immediately to any airline that wanted them.

Until they're occupied by other carriers, American will continue to pay rent on the gates it inherited from TWA.

Griggs is hopeful the airport will begin filling the empty gates, despite the economic struggles in the airline industry and the runway construction costs it will soon be passing along to airlines that are still doing business here in late 2006, or 2007.

A task force made up of 17 local business leaders studied the airport's finances last year and called on city officials to slash costs and find new revenue totaling up to $50 million a year. That would reduce the costs Lambert has to pass along to the airlines and keep it competitive with other airports its size.

"There are so many hubs that compete with St. Louis for that connecting traffic that it makes it vulnerable," said Brian Campbell, chairman of task force consultant Campbell-Hill Aviation Group Inc. "That vulnerability is only exacerbated if the costs go way up.

"Any way you cut it, those costs have to be contained and, indeed, reduced." The task force also recommended that the airport spend more money to spruce up its terminals to make it more attractive to airlines and travelers. Finding new airlines to fill the empty concourse will help keep the airlines' costs down, Griggs said, because the airport operating costs will be spread over more carriers.

Spencer Dickerson, senior executive vice president for the American Association of Airport Executives, said Lambert was not the only airport that has had to deal with lost flights.

"If an airline downsizes, obviously, there are going to be some gates that are not going to be used," he said. "That is not unusual at all."