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Lufthansa puts St. Louis back on transatlantic flight map today with flights to Germany

June 01, 2022
6 min read
Lufthansa plane taking off
Lufthansa puts St. Louis back on transatlantic flight map today with flights to Germany
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Oct. 31, 2003, was a sad day for Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge.

That was the day American Airlines Flight 134 departed St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) for London's Gatwick Airport (LGW) for the last time. It was the last scheduled service from the Midwestern airport to Europe via a network carrier until now. On Wednesday, Lufthansa commences thrice-weekly service to Germany's Frankfurt Airport (FRA) using an Airbus A330.

In 2003, Hamm-Niebruegge ran American's now-defunct St. Louis hub. She joined American through its acquisition of bankrupt Trans World Airlines — an airline with a long and storied history in the city — in 2001. Hamm-Niebruegge worked there as the airline wound down its hub throughout the 2000s and ultimately announced its closure in 2009.

"When that last flight left, it really marked an era of devastation for this city," she told TPG in an interview. "For this region, I think it was something that was really hard for certainly those of us at the airport to accept, but more importantly, I think, for the businesses and the region to lose that notoriety of a true international hub."

It was just two years earlier that St. Louis had watched its nonstop service to Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) end.

Hamm-Niebruegge retired from American at the end of 2009, and three days later, she became executive director of the St. Louis airport — a position she still holds today. Since she saw firsthand the demise of TWA — and later American's St. Louis hub — she's made it her mission to restore air service to the city.

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St. Louis Lambert International Airport, shown here in January 2001, was once a bustling hub for TWA. (Photo by Bill Greenblatt/Liaison/Getty Images)

At the beginning of her tenure, Hamm-Niebruegge focused on restoring domestic service, largely through Southwest Airlines. That carrier is now twice as large in STL as it was in 2010, and it accounts for 55% of the airport's market share. Then, she turned to international service.

Hamm-Niebruegge and her team decided to focus on attracting foreign carriers to the airport for international flights as opposed to U.S. carriers, which, by the mid-2010s, had become deeply entrenched in a hub-and-spoke strategy for international flying. (There are some notable exceptions, including an incentive-supported Delta flight from Indianapolis International Airport (IND) to Paris that operated from 2018 until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and American's flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) to London Heathrow Airport (LHR), which restarts on Friday.)

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The airport had a strong case for service to Europe, Hamm-Niebruegge said.

"In 2019, we had 350 people a day going into Europe every day across the board," she said about local travelers taking connecting flights elsewhere on their way across the Atlantic. Sometimes in the summer, she said, the number would peak at about 450 passengers per day.

In the meantime, now-defunct Icelandic low-cost carrier Wow Air briefly served the city with high-density Airbus A321s in 2018 and January 2019, with flights to Keflavik Airport (KEF). However, this service was targeted toward leisure travelers; the city's business community, which Hamm-Niebruegge engaged in efforts to land a larger airline, wanted something more for corporate travelers.

"It was important that this was a legacy carrier with business class and premium economy," she said. "That was a critical piece of what was important to our business community to support it."

Key members of the city's business community include German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which established its North American headquarters in St. Louis.

"The amount of traffic that Bayer brings to and from this market is substantial," Hamm-Niebruegge said.

Ultimately, the business community settled on luring Lufthansa for a Frankfurt flight, and they put together an incentive package. Lufthansa will be paid up to $5 million over a two-year period if it meets a minimum service commitment — in this case, an average of three flights per week. The airport will also waive 18 months' worth of landing fees and other costs. Half of the $5 million will be provided by Greater St. Louis, Inc., which represents the region's businesses, and the other half will be provided by the St. Louis County Port Authority.

This type of support is key to making a new route successful, said Robert W. Mann, an airline industry consultant and former TWA executive.

"Ultimately it's market support — and ideally, corporate market support," Mann told TPG in an interview.

Underscoring how important this flight is to businesses, 31 local corporate executives, along with Hamm-Niebruegge, will fly to Frankfurt on Wednesday's inaugural flight.

Related: St. Louis gets its 1st transatlantic flight to continental Europe in nearly 20 years

So far, bookings are strong, Hamm-Niebruegge said. There is optimism that this flight will continue past the two-year incentive period, she added.

"I think it will be a very successful flight," she said. "I certainly think that we can prove the point and it's here to stay. I think it will be a very, very strong market."

Passengers will see some advantages when they fly into STL, too. The gate Lufthansa will use is near the airport's customs and immigration facility, a 30-to-60-second walk, Hamm-Niebruegge said. Also, it will be the only flight using the facility at its scheduled 1:45 p.m. arrival time. She anticipates a maximum wait of 15 to 20 minutes for passengers without Global Entry on a "tough day." Passengers who do have Global Entry can use the new additional kiosks.

Lufthansa even inked a lounge agreement for departing premium-cabin passengers, who will be able to access the Wingtips Lounge in Terminal 2. (The lounge is also accessible via Priority Pass.)

As far as additional international service for STL, Hamm-Niebruegge said it's definitely possible, especially if the region continues to grow its biotech, plant science and financial services sectors.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity for us if this region continues to excel in those areas," she said. "We could see more growth of international service down the road."

Featured image by picture alliance via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees