A Delta Hub In St Louis? Yeah, Right

One of the more laughable rumors in recent memory has come to the surface in recent days. The rumorville is buzzing with the possibility of a Delta hub in St Louis. What a stupid idea. This rumor is either completely wrong or Delta is a lot dumber than I thought. My guess is that this is just being completely blown out of proportion.

Watch this news report and then come on back for more discussion.

The rumors say that Delta is looking to establish up to eighty flights a day in St Louis. The Mayor confirmed that Delta was in town to talk, but he didn’t say anything about a “hub” per se. The local media seems to have jumped on that and run with it when in reality, Delta may just be looking for a few additional opportunities, if that.

St Louis isn’t a tiny operation for them. When LaGuardia starts in September, they’ll be up to 34 flights per day as follows:

  • Atlanta 8x
  • Cincinnati 3x
  • Detroit 6x
  • JFK 1x
  • LaGuardia 4x
  • Memphis 3x
  • Minneapolis/St Paul 6x
  • Salt Lake City 3x

Is it a huge stretch to see that number get up to 80 flights per day? Yep. I can’t see it. Where are they going to go? American still covers a few of the other major local traffic destinations with Southwest ramping up as well. But the news reports focus on how St Louis lacks service to Europe.

Ah, there’s a possibility. Delta is not shy when it comes to subsidies. In fact, they launched a mega-money loser in Pittsburgh by connecting the city with Paris. But the money is being lost by the city, not the airline, so it’s an easy one for Delta to do. That flight, however, is flown by a 757 while anything from St Louis to Europe is bound to Delta and St Louisrequire at least a 767 unless they feel like stopping somewhere along the way to fill up. (Which, by the way, is a sure-fire way to make this lose even more money.)

So why was Delta in St Louis to talk? For the same reason every airline talks to every airport. They’re always looking for good opportunities. St Louis isn’t going to be one of them, I hope, but it won’t be because of something the airport did wrong. The report mentions the lack of terminal space as a possible impediment. This is a joke, right? Pittsburgh may be the only airport in the country with more empty gates. If Delta wanted to come in and set up a hub, you know they’d bend over backwards to find space that Delta likes.

The other issue mentioned is the fact that the airport is expensive. This is true, but they aren’t really looking at the right metric. The cost per enplanement was in the $10 range a couple years back and that’s the metric to look at. It’s likely to rise a few dollars more before things get better. This isn’t a surprise. As the airport loses service, the costs have be spread over fewer enplanements. It’s ugly.

The report compared St Louis to Memphis, Delta’s closest hub. Memphis runs in the $6 to $7 range per enplanement, so it is a significant difference, but that doesn’t mean that Delta will go running to St Louis if costs come down.

Northwest found a way to make Memphis work, and Delta has done very little to screw that up . . . yet. That’s why while we’ve seen Cincinnati get slashed, Memphis has remained fairly stable. But what’s a great way to ruin a good thing like that? Open a new hub 250 miles north. You throw a bunch of flights into St Louis and you undoubtedly hurt Memphis, something that works well.

In the end, we might see a few more flights and even a Europe run if St Louis wants to subsidize it, but a hub? We won’t see it. (And if we do . . . wow . . . that will be just an awful move.)

44 Responses to A Delta Hub In St Louis? Yeah, Right

  1. James says:

    Tell us how you really feel, Cranky!

  2. Paint all the Northwest planes in Delta colors and now it does look like DL is a big player in STL. But that’s from buying another airline and not from starting a bunch of new service to build up towards a hub. A city like STL would be a good hub since it is right in the middle of the country which is why TWA used it for all those decades. And it was TWA connections that fed nonstops to London, Paris, and Frankfurt not the locals. Unless something ‘interesting’ is happening in Memphis that DL would feel they need to move to another midwest location, why would they make STL a hub.

    The question is does DL really need another hub and another U.S. city to fly to Europe from? Sounds more like they are just picking up a few more flights to feed their other hubs.

    • CF says:

      Just because a hub is geographically desirable does not make it a good hub. Local traffic is where you really control the pricing and can make your money. Without strong local traffic, a hub is no good. And that’s why St Louis is no longer a hub. It was the best TWA could get back in the day, but St Louis was also a city with stronger local traffic long ago. (I don’t think it ever was a great hub, even then.)

  3. SEAN says:

    Unless Delta wants to merge hubs at SLC & MEM into STL, this is nonsenceacle.

  4. Gray says:

    Wow, Cranky – did you have a bad breakup in Saint Louis, or something? This post is really, uh, tinged with anger. ;-)

    • CF says:

      It’s nothing against St Louis at all. I like the airport, but the idea is so absurd that I just wanted to be firm with my stance. No reason to sugar coat it and get the hopes up for St Louis residents.

  5. Trimble says:

    MSP is the loser in the next 4-5 years.
    DL has shot most of the admin staff up there already, the future of MSP as a hub is doubted by insiders not just the disgruntled. But STL???

  6. Trimble says:

    BTW MSP: 15 GATES to SWA believe it

  7. Joel Bader says:

    As one who lives in the Des Moines, IA area (which had service to St. Louis from Braniff, Ozark, TWA and American) before American discontinued service not too long ago, I hope that Delta sees an opportunity to link Des Moines to its network through that city. What are your thoughts?

  8. DGS says:

    STL should be happy that they have the NYC (JFK and LGA) service plus all of the DL hubs. Of course, if anybody wants to place bets on how soon CVG-STL gets pulled, I’m listening…

  9. YO says:

    Kansas City and St. Louis, where hub dreams go to die

  10. PHILL says:

    I think it’s funny that people would even think Delta would pull an “American”. Let’s face it – - the TWA acquisition was the stupidest thing American had ever done, and they promptly exited St. Louis for a reason – it’s a money pit.

    • Scott says:

      PHILL, I want to respectfully disagree with your comment. I recall reading in the newspaper at one point a few years after the TWA buyout that STL was one of AA’s most profitable hubs. Its good fit with connecting flights, decent weather, lack of serious competition and resulting high fares, and its decent o/d business traffic combined to make it a half-decent hub. Of course, AA also had its nearby hubs in ORD and DFW, so STL made less sense for them than it would for, say, an airline such as USAir or a pre-NWA Delta. Also, contrary to your statement of “they (AA) promptly exited St. Louis,” AA bought TWA in early 2001, and de-hubbed STL in April 2011, 10 years later. Granted, they downsized it from 400 flights to just over 200 flights just a few years after the buyout, I believe that was in 2005 or 2006. The TWA acquisition did do a good thing for AA: it gave them a bunch of MD-80′s, 757′s and 767′s, which were a perfect match for their existing fleet, which allowed them to compete more effectively against UA in ORD, and to expand their hub at DFW.

      • CF says:

        If St Louis was American’s most profitable hub, it never would have pulled out. You don’t walk away from an operation like that just because you have other airports nearby. There’s no way it was in that position.

        Also, American’s purchase of TWA was a waste. TWA probably would have just disappeared otherwise and then AA wouldn’t have been saddled with trying to manage St Louis for a decade and it wouldn’t have been stuck with a whole fleet of non-standard airplanes that it would have been better off without anyway.

        The 767s were not a perfect match. They were different than AA’s fleet and they were dumped very quickly. The TWA 757s also had different engines and were dumped as soon as the leases expired. AA also took on 717s and DC9s from TWA that were dropped right away. That left some MD-80s which also were in a different configuration. Those may still be around, but I would argue that AA would have been better off without all those extra MD-80s.

        Hindsight is 20/20, but looking back, this wasn’t a good plan, especially with 9/11 happening right around the corner.

  11. Ben says:

    For the person who claimed MSP’s demise is just around the corner: MSP is not going anywhere. Delta is required to keep something like 400 daily flights at the airport, as part of their deal with the state to close the NWA headquarters. A lot of headquarter-type jobs vanished in the merger, but the flights haven’t. And unlike St. Louis, there is a lot of local traffic and biz travel here.

    • mitch c says:

      I think the poster is right, Anderson will get out of Minneapolis as soon as they can settle with the State of MN. 400 flights? there is no agreement DL would possibly make like that. The Asian Turns are all going away so where’s the
      traffic that DL needs to keep? You sound like you’re a bounced NWAer!

    • Scott says:

      OK, let’s look at the NUMBERS: Minneapolis-St. Paul has 3.2 million people, St. Louis has 2.8 million. Not a huge difference. Last time I checked, USBank has its headquarters in MSP, but has its business headquarters in STL because it has more corporate business there. Weather at STL is much better than MSP, obviously. Why is it so ridiculous to consider STL as a hub but MSP is a great city for a hub? STL is larger than hub cities Denver (2.5 million), Cleveland (2.3MM), Cincinnati (2.1MM), Charlotte (1.7MM), Milwaukee (1.5MM), Memphis (1.3MM) and Salt Lake City (1.1MM). St. Louis has more Fortune 500 headquarters than all the hub cities mentioned above, as well as more HQ and more people than large metro’s Seattle, Phoenix and Miami. STL has more HQ and more people than other non-hub metro areas geographically in or near the center of the US: Kansas City (2.0MM), Indianapolis (1.7MM), Louisville (1.2MM), Tulsa (0.9MM). The population center of the US is IN MISSOURI. These are facts, not opinion. Just sayin.

      • CF says:

        Let’s update those numbers. The best way to look at this is in the Combined Statistical Area which is really the catchment for the airports, I would argue.

        Using those 2009 numbers, we see this:
        Minneapolis-St Paul-St Cloud = 3.6m (10% growth since 2000)
        Denver-Aurora-Boulder = 3.1m (18% growth since 2000)
        St Louis-St Charles-Farmington = 2.9m (5% growth since 2000)

        Comparing it to cities like Cincinnati and Memphis is a mistake because those are dying hubs in their own right. (Cleveland will probably join the party soon enough.) St Louis is a shrinking, if not dying, city itself. Population has dropped by 8 percent since 2000 to about the level that existed around the Civil War. Even the county of St Louis has seen its population shrink as well.

        There are 8 Fortune 500 companies based in St Louis which, contrary to what you suggest, is behind the 10 headquarters in Minneapolis. (And the Minneapolis ones are bigger, for the most part.) But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is how much travel gets generated in those cities. I don’t know the answer to that, but my guess is that the cities that need service still have service from St Louis. That doesn’t mean it can support a hub.

        • People think of STL as a hub because of TWA. It could be a hub if that is an airlines only hub since it’s in the middle of the country and could feed traffic in all directions as TWA did.

          But for airlines today like AA/UA-CO/DL whom each have many hubs, it would make less sense to add STL as a hub and costly to close one hub and open one at STL.

          AA wouldn’t have many flights there if it not for the take over and destruction of TWA, but with ORD/DFW north and south of STL to only keep service to important business centers and hubs to make STL work for them with locals.

        • Scott says:

          Dear CF, you are right to compare consolidated metro areas. I thought I was doing that when I was looking at the 2010 census numbers. Perhaps I am…I just don’t have the time right now to dig into the census data, but for argument’s sake, I’ll assume you are correct. But I think our comparisons are “splitting hairs” so to speak. I agree with you in spirit but when you got into talking about core cities, you got off track. It’s the overall area which matters, like you initially began your reply, not one core city. I do not know where you got your Fortune 500 count of corporations, and really I got a little off track there when using it, too. Large corporations make up only a part of the business demand mix, just as a core city makes up only part of the demand fed to the airport from the metro area and even beyond. Total business demand is what matters, along with total leisure demand, when talking about o/d portion of overall demand. Due to its central location, STL has a large number of regional business offices and distribution centers, I’d argue more than MSP. In the big picture, even hubs in larger metro areas are what they are because of connecting traffic. Consider that ATL’s and DFW’s traffic (and number of flights they support as a result) are well over half connecting traffic. Connections are KEY to the operation of a hub, and part of the definition of a hub. A “hub” without connecting traffic is called a “focus city.” That’s why CLT is successful with over 600 daily flights…yet STL metro area has about 2/3 more people but “cannot support a hub?” Unless you are prepared to call hubs such as SLC, CLT, MSP and DEN complete failures doomed to die soon, then a hub in STL would THEORETICALLY be successful. TWA was hobbled with high costs per seat-mile, poor capitalization and the parasitic Icahn travel agency. STL has what I’d argue is one of the best combinations OVERALL in geographic location, weather and hub o/d demand in the country. ATL and DFW have higher o/d demand, but the bulk of traffic in both airports is connecting traffic. Considering STL’s more centralized location geographically, it’s a better overall airport for connecting flights, especially for East/West traffic. Considering how fuel prices are so high these days, that’s important. DFW has a good position for E/W traffic connecting at least one southern city. ATL has a good position for N/S traffic on the east coast, absolutely. But STL is still better overall when talking about geographical location.

          • CF says:

            Of course connections are important to a hub. Otherwise it’s not a hub. But without significant local traffic, that doesn’t matter. You can argue what you want about St Louis being able to support excellent local traffic, but the airlines aren’t seeing it.

            Look at it this way. You have a market with decent demand to big cities. That’s largely filled by Southwest or the hub carrier on the other end (like Delta to Atlanta, United to Chicago, etc). What would a hub bring? With Southwest having a dominant position, fares will be low if anyone tries to challenge the airline. So local fares would stay low. And connecting traffic? Sure, it could come through St Louis, but it provides nothing that other hubs can’t already provide. There is no reason for a hub to exist in St Louis at all. It’s served perfectly well with its current point to point network.

            (I got my Fortune 500 numbers from Fortune itself, but Minneapolis now has 9 with the updated number.)

          • Scott says:

            Dear CF, up until 2 years ago, I sat on the regional board of US Bank. USBank’s headquarters are in MSP. Their business/commercial HQ is in St. Louis, and that is because, to quote a USBank executive, St. Louis is the largest commercial business center for the bank, despite having a large market share in MSP, STL, and other markets such as Cincinnati. And more importantly, STL has the largest mid- and large-business commercial business base overall. But in the big picture, it’s just slightly larger than MSP. It all doesn’t make a difference. So, you win, you are right: St Louis is a terrible place for a hub because it’s served by other hubs, has inadequate business demand for o/d flights, but MSP is just fine, even though STL has a larger mid/large sized business market. MSP is fine for leisure demand because it has a metro area with 3.6 million people, whereas the 2.9 million people in STL is not nearly enough, but the 2 million in CLT is.
            Maybe we should think of people in STL as only 3/5 of a person, like African Americans were by the government when counting their votes years ago. The 2.9 million people in St. Louis should just shut up and quit complaining, and take connecting flights to major US cities and international destinations rather than being so selfish by demanding non-stops like everyone else in every other similar-sized metropolitan area in the United States enjoys. The people living an hour or two to the south of STL should just drive 8-10 hours to ORD or DFW rather than expect a flight out of STL. The area around STL is served just fine by ORD and DFW, but the little hub Delta has in ATL cannot be expected to serve those in and around CLT. People in SPI should just drive the 3.5 hours to ORD, but people in Greenville, SC should not be expected to drive 2.5 hours to ATL. People in Greensboro NC should not be expected to drive 5 hours to IAD, but people in Columbia, MO should drive the 7 hours to ORD or the 10 hours to DFW. Thanks for pointing out my mistakes.

          • CF says:

            Wow, that’s an incredibly insensitive comparison to say that simply because you want more nonstop flights, your plight is somehow equal to those who were actually legally considered lesser humans in the history of our country. I’d maybe suggest you stop writing on emotion so much and think twice next time.

            But to get back to your actual point . . .

            The 2.9 million people in St. Louis should just shut up and quit complaining, and take connecting flights to major US cities and international destinations rather than being so selfish by demanding non-stops like everyone else in every other similar-sized metropolitan area in the United States enjoys.

            Please enlighten me on this. To which “major US cities” do you lack nonstop service? You have nonstop service to every major US city, and there’s a reason for that. There’s demand. That doesn’t mean there’s enough demand for a hub. International? Even in the heyday of the TWA hub, you had what? London? Maybe Paris? Unless the airport decides to throw big subsidies at airlines (see Baltimore, Portland, Pittsburgh, etc) these aren’t coming back.

            Also, you misunderstand what I mean by hinterland. Those aren’t people driving. Those are people buying tickets and flying into the hub to connect out. Very different story than what you’re suggesting.

          • Scott says:

            Of course the plight of lacking non-stop flights are not the same as what the African Americans faced. I’m just saying that somehow your comments (or perhaps it was only my understanding of your comments) implied that it was ludicrus to assume a hub could ever be profitable in St. Louis, but it makes complete sense to have a hub in places such as MSP and CLT. The point of my comments back is simply: hey, the St. Louis metro area is a big as these places with hubs, and larger in the case of CLT, SLC, MEM, CLE, CVG…AND…unlike some of these places, it also is near the population and geographic center of the US. If I am understanding you correctly that it makes sense to have hubs in those cities, but a hub would not work, ever, in STL, then the only other reason I could come up with, and obviously it was a little bit sarcastically, is that I guess the people of St. Louis do not count as much as in these other cities, and I drew the 3/5 comparison, because it was ludicrous to have done that back then, to the African Americans, and it is ludicrous to do it now, when analyzing the STL area. I never implied it was an equal plight, just similar (3/5=3/5, it’s a mathematical equation), and wouldn’t do so, because it isn’t. It all came about because I was thinking that it seemed to be, based on my understanding of comments, that the 3 million people in STL area were not sufficient to support a hub, but 2 million or less in other areas was, so my thought process was that somehow these people in STL count as less than one person, and it reminded me of the 3/5 tragedy in our history, and this was a similar percentage, so I said it. Regarding nonstop flights, I have to get to work, so I don’t have the time right now to look at the schedule. I know that my cousin, who is a manager at Boeing (they have their HQ for military division in STL), she complains that she NEVER can fly non-stop to SEA because there is only one non-stop, on Southwest, and it is always sold out. She also flies to her mother in San Diego, and there are no non-stops there at all. That city pair was actually mentioned by the mayor of STL when AA de-hubbed, because the nonstop flight they cut was over 80% full on average. One of my best friends lives in Austin, and have considered flying there, and the last time I checked there are no non-stops. AT&T has their headquarters in San Antonio. Their largest operations and management center besides that city is in St. Louis. I don’t recall seeing any non-stops. When I wanted to fly STL to LGA a few weeks ago, I could not get a non-stop flight. They were all full, so I had to fly through Atlanta. I guess in my particular experiences, it seems that the metro area is underserved. My apologies about the hinterland, I now understand what your point was, and I agree with you in part. It’s fair to say, however, that the CLT hinterland is fairly well served by ATL, especially for flights to the south and west. Aren’t many destinations directly to the east of CLT since it’s pretty close to the coast, of course. The STL hinterland is equally well served by ORD (UA & AA), especially for flights to the north and east, and to the west in some cases. But I am not sure that it’s fair to say that the STL hinterland is well-served by DFW, but that the CLT hinterland is not, or wouldn’t be if CLT were de-hubbed, for flights going north. There are plenty of airports to the north of CLT that are within the same distance that DFW is from STL. I think that’s fair to say. We’re comparing apples to oranges…STL doesn’t have a hub with the associated feeding flights from nearby cities, whereas CLT already does. Regarding international, STL had non-stops to London and Paris, and TW had announced non-stops to FRA and Tokyo NRT, but they weren’t implemented because soon thereafter AA bought TW. I don’t think STL would support anything more than a seasonal non-stop to London, and maybe only a few days per week. STL is 20% larger than PIT, so that would help with the demand situation. I have not done a good job of saying I’m talking about STL’s appeal as a hub in a THEORETICAL sense. As it stands now, it probably doesn’t make sense for any airline to set up a LARGE hub in STL, so we’re in agreement on the big picture, when looking at the present day situation. I hope I’m starting to make a little bit of sense…I’ve tried writing these in haste before or after my work, and that has been a mistake because I was not always clear, and for that, I apologize.

  12. Todd says:

    Actually TWA’s hub in St. Louis was a very fine hub!
    Operations were very nice there!

    Alaska Air just added STL today and Delta also just released a statement that said:

    Trebor Banstetter (Delta Spoklesperson) wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a hub being moved to or created in St. Louis.

    Ther ya go… Delta is not denying it nor is it a secret that they are looking at the possibility.

    St. Louis’ airport is under major renovations and updates and theyy also have a brand new runway system – for capacity. They also have 3 million people in the metro (larger city tyhan most Delta hubs), are better positioned in the country, and the city also has a lot of major corporations there (ties ATL as fourth largest Fortune 500 companies city in the USA). Not to mention STL International also has direct rail service into the city and it is most likely becomming an Air China hub this fall.

    So, naysayers, you may want to re”think” your “thinking” here.

  13. Sam says:

    STL is really coming along. I flew through STL on an American Airlines connection and on a Southwest connection this year. The terminals are really looking nice and I have to say that this is one of America’s heritage airports!
    Anyway, I would like to see Delta land a hub here. It makes sense to consolidate those little hubs into another large major city airport where you can draw from a 3 million pop and have excellent accommodations in a major airport like STL. Memphis and Cincy Airports are lousy in comparison. STL also have numerous runways and better weather than Dallas, MSP and Cincy in the winter.

    Many fear that MSP will lose a lot of Delta over the next three years when Delta’s contract with MSP is up. Cincy is already the loser and Memphis, well… it just remains the same.

  14. Mark says:

    My opinion based on the statement mentioned above which must have come from this…http://www.kmox.com/Delta-downplays-desire-to-hub-at-Lambert/7463058…is that STL could become a focus city at some point like DL briefly had in Columbus but that is it. Anything else is unreasonable. Also, if you go to departedflights.com and look at STL when it was an Ozark hub before it merged into TWA and became the bloated mess that ultimately didn’t work…STL really still has alot of what it had with the Ozark hub today with SW and others combined so they can only complain so much.

  15. Atlanta says:

    I see it as a win-win situation. A metropolitan area with 2.8 million people is no ghost town. Plus I hear Air China is looking to make St. Louis a North American HUB. American pulled out of St. Louis because American is going under and bigger cities like Chicago and New York provide more stability. In 10 years there probably won’t even be an American Airlines…..watch. Congrats to St. Louis if they are able to pull it off. Some good news for that region for a change.

  16. Kevin says:

    According to a STL commerce magazine, China is currently looking to start a STL cargo flight every 2-3 days starting late fall/winter. It’s not yet set in stone, but i’d like to use this opportunity to smack the faces of all the people who ever doubted St. Louis’ ability to be a major player in the airline industry.

    and Cranky, i don’t know why you try to deny the claim that you hate St. Louis; this is the third post i’ve seen from you that just trashes the city.

    • CF says:

      Two to three weekly flights from China does not make an airport a major player in the airline industry. We’ll see if that even materializes.

      But why do you think I hate the city of St Louis? I’m just being realistic. St Louis is not going to support a hub like it did in the past. It’s really that simple. It has nothing to do with me hating the city. Can you post the links to the other posts that “just trashes the city”?

      • Kevin says:

        2 to 3, maybe not, but like the birth of all good hubs, it’ll build up over time. For some reason, the Chinese seem to love STL, and so far they’ve been really dedicated to making this happen. They’ve even said that they want to use St. Louis as their door to the Midwest. If that’s not hub talk, I don’t know what is.

        A while ago, you posted an article titled “American kills St. Louis, Strengthens Other Hubs,” and it seemed as though you were happy, not for the strengthening of the other hubs, but for the demise of STL. I also think you’re wrong in thinking that STL can’t support at least a small hub. People who point to that city as TWA’s demise have forgotten about Karibu (which, as I’ve read, took around 20-40% of TW’s earnings). An airline without such a deal could do quite well in that city. In fact, once the duel in MKE finishes out, I would not at all be surprised if Airtran or Frontier make a big move into STL.

        • yes Carl Icahn and his Karibu company robbed TWA good. Forget TWA trying to make money in leisure markets thanks to them. That was why TWA dropped Reno, they made no money since all the space was Karibu passengers for the most part.

        • CF says:

          This article? You’re right. I was happy about it. But that has nothing to do with me hating St Louis but rather it has to do with me liking good business decisions. There is no love or hate for St Louis from me in this – just a realistic look at it. Yes, TWA had Karibu which absolutely raped the airline, but that didn’t carry over to American. American tried to make a go of it and it didn’t work at all.

          So now Southwest has picked up the pieces on good routes with a few other taking opportunistic chances here and there. I would be shocked to see AirTran or Frontier beef up St Louis. They’ll just have to go up against Southwest’s dominance on the routes that work.

          Milwaukee is now way overserved as well, but it’s far better than St Louis because it can drag from the population-rich northern ‘burbs of Chicago. St Louis just doesn’t have a chance of returning to its former glory days as a hub.

          • But did AA really try to make STL a workable hub? With ORD and DFW that was just to many hubs in the midwest.

          • CF says:

            Well, the original idea for American was to turn St Louis into a hub primarily focused on connections while O’Hare and DFW could focus on their much richer local traffic bases. That didn’t work. Then they started to cull routes that couldn’t hold their own and that’s how we ended up where we are today, with almost nothing.

            The problem is always local traffic. If you have a ton of local traffic, you can make an operation work. If it happens to have a big hinterland and a good position for connections geographically, then it’s a gold mine. That’s the beauty of a place like Atlanta, Chicago, and DFW. Even Charlotte wins in that area thanks to a strong hinterland (small surrounding airports).

            St Louis doesn’t have nearly enough of that. The hinterland is well-served from bigger cities like Chicago or DFW or even Denver. The local traffic can support some routes but not on the level it did before. I just don’t see it happening.

          • Kevin says:

            I don’t care how much population MKE draws from northern Chicago, they still only had about 8 million passengers travel through that airport in 2009 (including connections), while STL has around 10 million passengers per year in O&D alone.

            And AA’s problem with STL was not a profit problem. They even stated as they pulled service that STL actually did turn them a profit, they just wanted to streamline their operations (because really, three midwestern hubs? I agree, THAT is ridiculous). Anyway, Southwest will certainly be difficult to beat out of the routes, but it won’t be impossible (I literally saw ZERO businessmen in the East Terminal last time I was there). STL also has a population of nearly 3 million, and a pretty big corporate base. It also has a MUCH better location than the northern hubs, due to both its centrality and weather; MKE, MSP, and ORD get sacked with snow MUCH more often. Finally, we’ve got the superpower that is China seemingly willing to beef up the city like crazy. Even if you don’t hate STL, you certainly underestimate it. It could definitely be a hub again, even in the near future.

          • Scott says:

            Dear CF, your comments about the “hinterlands” do indeed make sense, but only in the sense that a major regional airport does serve the surrounding smaller cities. But to say that the area around STL is served by even Denver is stretching it by more than a little. Denver is 850 miles away, a 13 hour trip by car. Washington DC is just as far away, so I guess applying your logic, the St Louis hinterlands are served by Washington DC, and USAir should de-hub Charlotte because of Chicago. Actually, Atlanta is closer to Charlotte than Chicago is to St. Louis. Oh wait, Charlotte should also be de-hubbed because of New York…it’s the same 650 mile, 11 hour drive away as DFW is from St. Louis. Applying your logic, the only hubs in America should be New York, Atlanta, DFW and LA. The rest should just go ahead and give up right now and be de-hubbed. I agree with you that due to competing hubs that are rather close, and the industry consolidation that’s taking place, STL will probably not be a 400+ flight hub in the near future. But it could certainly hold its own as a 200-250 flight focus city. As the 16′s largest CMSA in the country, STL is the largest CMSA without at least sub-hub/focus city status, and it’s the only one in the top 20 without a hub/sub-hub to be centrally located geographically. It’s the largest CMSA in the country without a nonstop flight to Europe. Due to legacy frequent flier members with left-over AA miles, a substantial amount of its traffic is flying to other major cities by connecting through DFW or ORD, but that is going away as people draw down their miles. I did the same, my parents did the same, and everyone I know in STL are doing the same. AA is hated there for what they did to the city, and any airline that would set up even a mini-hub would be richly rewarded with loyal new customers by the thousands.

          • CF says:

            Scott – You’re really taking this out of context. The point is not that one other hub can serve the hinterlands around St Louis adequately. It’s that all the other hubs combined do serve it well. Look at it by airline.

            American – Serves north, east and northwest via Chicago. Serves south and southwest via DFW.

            Delta – Serves north and west via Minneapolis. Serves north and east via Detroit and Atlanta (and other dying hubs). Serves west via Salt Lake.

            United – Serves north via Chicago. Serves east via Newark and Washington. Serves west via Denver. Serves south via Houston.

            Now look at a place like the area around Charlotte. Delta can serve those cities via Atlanta but nobody else has a good solution. You can go north to Washington just to backtrack to the south but that’s not a good solution. American has nothing, with Miami just being a Latin hub. Charlotte provides a good way to serve that area, an area with very limited competition.

          • Scott says:

            Now, taking this all into consideration, my arguments were, as I pointed out originally, talking about the THEORETICAL viability of STL as a hub, and its viability as an actual hub when TWA and later AA operated one with 400+ daily flights. It WAS viable. Today, if I were an airline executive at AA, UA/CO or perhaps even Delta, it would be FOOLISH to risk the money needed to open a hub at STL, especially a large connecting hub, unless of course they were given serious subsidies, as in tens of millions of dollars. Any of the airlines could successfully make STL a focus city with perhaps 200 flights, and little connecting traffic, and it would experience an increase in total market share/volume, because they’d win thru their frequent flier programs a big chunk of total business there in STL, because the only other airline with any presence there is Southwest, and they don’t even have 100 daily non-stop flights. Now, will this happen? PROBABLY NOT. UA has its hands full with CO integration, AA just plain sucks as operating secondary hubs (think about SJC, Nashville, RDU, and SJU, along with STL and probably others). DL is still working on its NW integration, and has what is now little more than focus cities relatively close-by in MEM and CVG. Now, USAir, I’m not sure what is their strategy, but they might be just making themselves appealing as a buyout target, and adding a hub at STL might make sense if USAir planned on being solo for years, but STL would make them LESS appealing as a buyout candidate to DL, UA or AA. Alaska Airlines is more of a regional player, I believe. So, that leaves….nobody in the short term. Longer term, it still makes sense to have every of the top 20 or 25 largest metro areas in the country as a hub or a focus city for one of the airlines. Economics 101 has proven time and time again that having a 50% market share in individual decent-sized markets yields more profit than serving a mid-sized market with a 10% or 20% market share. I might not be as clear as I want in these postings…I’ll re-read and try to summarize better. I don’t think they’re as good as they can be, esp. given the comments by CF, with all due respect to whoever you are. :-)

          • CF says:

            Longer term, it still makes sense to have every of the top 20 or 25 largest metro areas in the country as a hub or a focus city for one of the airlines. Economics 101 has proven time and time again that having a 50% market share in individual decent-sized markets yields more profit than serving a mid-sized market with a 10% or 20% market share.

            Economics 101 also uses supply and demand curves. When you have a hub in the 20-to-25 largest metro areas in the country, you have massive oversupply which will in turn put serious downward pressure on fares. Airlines have enough trouble staying above water at the capacity levels today. This would be an absolute disaster without question.

          • Scott says:

            CF, I agree with you 100%: having “a hub in the 20-25 largest metro areas in the country…today….would be an absolute disaster without question.” But in my quote, I began it with the key words “longer term.” I’m talking about the next 20 years, and the industry will continue growing. The US population alone in the next 20 years is projected to grow some 20%. Among the 20 largest metro areas, probably 18 of them already are hubs. The only ones in the list on Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_United_States_Combined_Statistical_Areas that I see are STL, PIT, Orlando and Sacramento, CA. STL is the largest of all them, Orlando and Sacramento are in particularly unfortunate areas geographically. I guess my point is, if an airline, LONG TERM, were to add a hub, based on population and geographic location, STL would be among those that would make sense to be on the short list. STL is the largest metro area in the country without a hub or mini-hub/focus city status, and it’s also in the middle of the country, it has 3 main runways, and plenty of empty gates. It probably doesn’t make sense to put a hub there as the industry stands now, but for the future, 5-10-20 years from now, it certainly could be considered one of the “low hanging fruits.”

  17. Ben says:

    I highly doubt Delta would ever consolidate other services into STL. Cranky Flier is right, this is a ridiculous article. Cincinnati has a 2.2 million metro along with Dayton up North adding another million(and 10 fortune 500 companies), MEM has a 1.6 million metro (with tourism), and SLC is another 1.6 million metro (a major ski destination). Sam, several comments above, was claiming that they would consolidate CVG, MEM, and SLC into STL, making a mega-hub. That is, quite possibly, the stupidest comment I have read out of all these comments. If Delta were going to consolidate hubs, they would do it into CVG where there is abundant gate space. STL is a nice airport, and was a hell of an terminal 15 years ago, but the CVG gate space is much nicer. Of course, there is no motive for DL to move their 4th, 5th, and 6th largest hubs into STL, none whatsoever. Even if they choose to consolidate, they could do it into Cincinnati Airport(which they already pay rent for), as it is able to and used to hold over 600 flights a day. As for MSP, I am quite unsure of its future. I assume Delta will keep MEM, SLC, and CVG roughly where they are in the foreseeable future, but when the deal between Minneapolis and Delta ends in 2014, I think you could see MSP’s delta service drop below even Cincinnati levels.

  18. The only was this could happen is to move Pinnacle Airlines to St. Louis and Merge Cincinnati and Memphis into one major hub of about 200 daily flight, making the hub larger than JFK.

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