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Slay calls American Airlines' latest cuts at Lambert 'bad business decision'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2009 - St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay asserted on his blog today that American Airlines "is making a mistake" by cutting its flight schedule at Lambert Field to 36 flights a day, down from 83, by next summer.

"For example, American will eliminate a direct flight to San Diego that on average was 87 percent full. Why?" the mayor wrote.

He said that Airport Director Dick Hrabko had lobbied against the cuts in a meeting last month in Washington with airline executives. Despite showing them "hard numbers and hard facts," Slay said his airport chief "came home convinced they would cut here anyway."

American Airlines' announced cuts in St. Louis flights are part of "a drastic overhaul of its business model that will result in far fewer flights from more cities, including ours," Slay said.

Most of the remaining American Airlines flights will be to its hub cities, he said.

"I think this is a bad business decision for the airline. American is cutting service in a good market and walking away from loyal customers," Slay said. "Lambert has a service area of more than four million people. St. Louis passengers have been filling American’s planes; load factors, an important metric in their business, are very good. "

Despite his concern about the flight cuts, Slay said the changes at Lambert won't be drastic.

"The airport staff has already convinced other carriers to back-fill previous cutbacks made by American," he said. "Lambert’s four newest airlines, including Frontier and AirTran, now account for 26 flights a day. Southwest Airlines has shown continued confidence in the St. Louis market by maintaining or increasing its schedule. And, yesterday, Midwest Airlines announced it will launch nonstop service between Milwaukee and St. Louis, beginning March 1, 2010.

"Bottom line? People will keep flying to and from St. Louis. Fewer of them, though, will be flying American."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.