Feb 9, 2024 - News

Airports aim for overseas routes

A Condor Airlines plane on the runway.

A Condor plane prepares for takeoff at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

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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