Airports aim for overseas routes
A low-fare European airline is trying to coax Austinites to fly to the continent out of San Antonio.
Why it matters: Condor Airlines' foray into Central Texas speaks to emerging competition between Austin and San Antonio to scoop up flyers — and come out as the major gateway in the burgeoning megalopolis.
- Both cities have committed to spending billions of dollars in coming years to make their airports more spiffy and easy to navigate.
- At stake is prestige, with airports serving as an initial and last impression for leisure and business travelers making their way into and out of the region.
Driving the news: Condor executive Mikko Turtiainen, director of sales for the Americas for the Germany-based airline, was in Austin this week to meet with Chamber of Commerce officials — and host a happy hour at the Austin-based German-Texan Heritage Society, to talk about the San Antonio-to-Frankfurt direct service that launches in mid-May.
- As part of a mini-road trip to promote the service, he's also meeting with economic development and German heritage officials in New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.
What they're saying: "This whole area is an important corridor for us," Turtiainen tells Axios, pointing to the long lineage of Germans in Central Texas, the business overlap between Austin/San Antonio and Frankfurt — especially with automotive and tech — the shared history of military bases and the travel-hungry faculty and student bodies at Texas universities.
- "It's a great proposition for small- to medium-sized businesses and travelers generally that want to go nonstop and that might be more price sensitive," he said.
Flashback: Condor operated out of Austin from 2016 to 2018, leaving as Lufthansa prepared to enter the market here, Turtiainen said.
The big picture: San Antonio is the older, bigger city — but reflecting the wealth and disposable income coursing through Austin, the airport here dwarfs the Alamo City's for international travel.
- Austin currently has nonstop flights to 14 foreign cities, including Montreal, Toronto, London, Amsterdam and Panama City — and Lufthansa service to Frankfurt.
- San Antonio, by comparison, is promoting nonstop flights to eight cities abroad — all of them, except the Condor one to Frankfurt, are to destinations in Mexico.
Zoom in: The San Antonio airport is in the midst of a $2.5 billion expansion including a new terminal that could open by 2028.
- And by decade's end, Austin's airport is slated to break ground on a new concourse with 10 additional gates, connected to the main terminal by an underground tunnel.
- In the meantime, the Austin airport has been promoting its live music and local eateries as part of a cool, local-feeling travel experience.
- The Austin airport had at least 1,470 shows in 2023 — including performances by Boygenius, Ray Benson and the Del Valle High School Choir.
The pitch: Condor's flights are, on average, 30% less than major airlines, such as KLM or United, per Turtiainen, and the company has invested in a fleet of new Airbuses.
Our test: We looked at flights this week on Condor for the last week of May from San Antonio to Frankfurt and found the cheapest tickets for two people, roundtrip, totaled $2,000.
- Nonstop roundtrip flights from Austin to Frankfurt for two people on Lufthansa were $3,586.
- Meanwhile, a mid-August nonstop roundtrip for two costs $2,360 on Condor.
- Flying on the same dates on Lufthansa out of Austin, the tally was $2,980.
The other side: "Dedicated to connecting people, cultures, and economies in a sustainable way, Lufthansa has offered a connection to Austin from markets not easily served in the past, offering both corporate and leisure travelers opportunities to explore Austin and the region," Lufthansa spokesperson Tal Muscal tells Axios.
- "Austin-based customers enjoy Lufthansa's commitment to offering a premium product in all classes, with excellent service both in the air and on the ground, and competitive fares," Muscal said.
Of note: Lufthansa is an overseas partner of Condor's, carrying many connections from Frankfurt to other European destinations, per Turtiainen.
By the numbers: Overall average fares are cheaper out of Austin than San Antonio, per cost rankings published by FinanceBuzz.
💭 Our San Antonio colleague Megan Stringer's thought bubble: I'll admit to traveling out of AUS instead of SAT on occasion for better nonstop options, and I know I'm not alone — something that San Antonio city leaders hate to hear and are eager to remedy.
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