St. Louis Lambert International Airport continues to experience strong growth in passenger traffic and destinations offered. The facility recently reported passenger traffic grew 5.5% in 2017, following 10 percent growth in 2016.
Total passengers reached 14,730,656 this past year, an increase of 771,000 over 2016 totals. December 2017 marked the 28th straight month of passenger growth and it also capped the airport’s busiest year in a decade, since it logged 15.3 million passengers in 2007.
Much of the growth can be attributed to Southwest Airlines. The carrier started announcing expanded service at Lambert in 2009 and has gradually built itself into the facility’s dominant carrier, surpassing 100 flights a day in 2016.
The airline accounts for 57.5% of the traffic to St. Louis, up from 54% in 2016. By comparison, American, the airport’s second-largest carrier accounts for 16.6% of the traffic.
Southwest added the two newest markets to the Airport in the past year with new service to Charleston, South Carolina, and Pensacola, Florida. In 2016, the carrier expanded its destinations from St. Louis to include Cleveland, Des Moines, Wichita, Little Rock, Oakland, and Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Lambert International Public Information Manager Jeff Lea says Southwest has been moving flights into St. Louis because it better serves the carriers needs than some other cities.
“We don’t have some of the extreme weather that Chicago Midway has been facing,” said Lea. “Some of the flights that we’ve gained here in the last couple of years were connecting through Chicago Midway and Southwest has chosen to funnel them through St. Louis, which is very positive for us.”
Lea says customer surveys show travelers are happy with the convenience level of the airport’s terminal two which is utilized by Southwest.
The airlines increase in flights and destinations continues to drive the surge in connecting passenger growth. In 2017, connecting passenger numbers grew nearly 30 percent, totaling 1.5 million passengers that traveled through St. Louis to reach their final destination.
Lea says Lambert now handle more traffic than many people realize. “We’re bigger than Hobby Airport in Houston. We’re busier than Austin, Nashville, Oakland, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento,” Lea said. “So, a number of airports that many folks think are busier, St. Louis is actually busier than that.”
Lambert International currently ranks as the 34th busiest airport in the country compared to Kansas City, which is 40th. The facility recently announced additional destinations over the next three months with Southwest Airlines adding seasonal service to Palm Beach, Florida in March plus new non-stop service to San Jose and Sacramento, California beginning April 8.
WOW air will begin its new non-stop international service to Reykjavík, Iceland on May 17. Lea says the ongoing lack of service to any mainland European destinations is being addressed by Lambert staff.
“I can tell you that the airport continually has meetings with some of the international airlines that service some of the European markets,” said Lea. “We’ve been really at the top of the list as a next possible market to serve Europe. We’re going to continue meeting with those airlines to see if we can get over the hump on that aspect.”
The St. Louis airport has gone through numerous changes over the years. In its heyday, it handled 500 daily flights as the main hub for the former Trans World Airlines (TWA). In 2000, the airport totaled almost 457,000 flights with 30.5 million passengers passing through its terminals.
After the financially strapped TWA was purchased by American Airlines in 2001, service from Lambert International steadily diminished to its low point in 2009.
It was then when the facility attempted to reinvent itself. $70 million in bonds were sold to finance renovations to the aging structure. $30 million in additional money came in from insurance coverage after a tornado struck the airport in 2011.
Largely because of the increase in service from Southwest, some of the airport’s unused gates from when TWA was in operation have been renovated and reopened.
But the takeoffs and landings would have to grow by what is probably an unrealistic number to return to full capacity. Lambert International has a total of 87 gates. 43 of them are still vacant, down from 49 in 2012.