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When Lambert airport expects flights to rebound — and the one route that may not come back

Lambert is eyeing future flight schedules, which give the airport hope for a robust rebound
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — Daily flights at St. Louis Lambert International Airport have nearly doubled from their COVID-19 bottom, to 159, with passenger traffic at about 25% of normal.

That's still a ways off from 241 daily flights in March, before virus shutdowns wrecked travel demand.

Flight frequencies to some markets are still lower, said Lambert Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, and the airport has lost nonstop flights to Cincinnati and its international destinations, including those to the Caribbean, Mexico and Toronto. Those may come back once U.S. Department of State restrictions are lifted, though the reinstatement of the Cincinnati route will depend on decisions made by Delta Airlines, Hamm-Niebruegge said.

A Delta spokeswoman said the airline is still evaluating its schedule "based on customer demand, government travel regulations and federal health guidelines."

Other seasonal routes, such as a Southwest Airlines offering to Charleston, South Carolina, also have been put on hold.

"It was about eight or nine markets that we lost," Hamm-Niebruegge said of the worst stretch for the airport. By contrast, Kansas City International Airport lost 35 routes.

Legacy carriers with operations in St. Louis were only serving their hubs to begin with, Hamm-Niebruegge said, and Southwest Airlines, Lambert's largest carrier, puts significant connecting traffic through here, helping keep destinations intact.

Now Lambert is eyeing future flight schedules, which give the airport hope for a robust rebound.

Hamm-Niebruegge said the Aug. 13 schedule shows 251 daily flights, and Southwest's November schedule, recently published, shows 9% capacity growth compared with last year. A new flight to Indianapolis helps boost the figure, as well as additional flights into markets that are currently served.

But the schedule could change, as Southwest, like many airlines, has taken steps to reduce costs.

"If the COVID situation gets worse in the fall, that schedule could always be adjusted," Hamm-Niebruegge said. "But we're very encouraged that the schedule published has us as a significant market for them."

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