American will cut 18 more flights at Lambert

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Jun. 19--St. Louis is being dealt another blow in domestic air travel.

For the second time in less than a year, Fort Worth-based American Airlines will slash a significant share of its daily flights out of St. Louis, reducing the number of times it flies to five cities and eliminating direct airline service to seven -- including Philadelphia, Las Vegas and San Diego.

American's top executive last week announced the need to cut capacity and reduce payroll while the nation remains mired in recession. The first round of St. Louis cuts will take effect Aug. 25 and will affect regional affiliates, said airline spokesman Tim Smith.

In November, eight flights on larger American Airlines jets will be trimmed from the schedule.

Once all of the cuts are made, American and its regional affiliates will offer 83 daily flights out of St. Louis, down from 101 today, Smith said, Last winter, American and its affiliates offered 112 flights.

Smith said the moves were driven by "a rather unprecedented economic climate in which we traded the incredible run-up of fuel (prices) last year for a deep recession this year."

Some of the flight destinations American cut -- including Las Vegas and Philadelphia -- will still be reachable on other airlines that fly out of St. Louis. Three others will not be reachable on nonstop flights. Those include Springfield, Mo.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and San Diego.

But American officials said some destinations still will be reachable to travelers willing to fly through American hubs in Chicago and Dallas.

"This is not reflective of the St. Louis market and the passengers that are flying out of St. Louis," said Lambert spokesman Jeff Lea. "This is not about empty seats. St. Louis remains a strong market."

Fitch Ratings on Thursday said it would monitor the effects of American's decision to reduce flights out of St. Louis. Last week, the agency downgraded Lambert's credit rating at a time when the airport is seeking to sell bonds to finance major terminal improvements.

Lea said the airport is "optimistic that new or existing carriers" will be able to meet the remaining demand. But Fitch analysts concluded that replacement of some of the lost service "is uncertain in the near term" because other airlines also are shedding flights.

Fitch said the airport has pledged to take steps to offset financial losses from the lost flights. Those steps include raising parking rates and increasing its marketing to other airlines.

Lea wouldn't comment Thursday on specific measures the airport is considering.

American Airlines will still retain a slight edge over Southwest Airlines for the number of flights out of St. Louis, but because Southwest flies exclusively the larger Boeing 737s, it's unclear how the two will stack up in the number of passenger boardings, Lea said.

St. Louis air service has taken a series of hits since Lambert served as the midcontinental hub for Trans World Airlines. About two years after it acquired TWA's assets, American halved the number of daily flights out of St. Louis, to 207 from 417.

Late last year, the airline cut 30 flights a day out of St. Louis amid soaring fuel prices.

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