St. Louis Loses Favor with Smaller Regional Carriers.

Columbia will become the sixth small city across Missouri and the mid-South to lose service to Lambert since last spring.

For Jimmy White, a pipe salesman from Jackson who flies weekly, those connections through Lambert became a big hassle, especially after American's cutbacks in 2003. Several times, he said, his flight home was canceled and he had to rent a car. Even when things went smoothly, it could be a long trip.

"I'd have to go from Jackson to St. Louis to Chicago to my destination," White said. "I just can't waste that much time on a plane."

Citing strong community support, the DOT awarded the Jackson route to Big Sky Airlines, through Cincinnati, even though it was a bit more expensive.

The same thing happened in Cape Girardeau, which had direct flights to Lambert since the 1950s. When the EAS contract came up for renewal this spring, there was debate about whether Cincinnati might be a better choice, said airport manager Bruce Loy.

"It was one of the most difficult decisions we've ever made," he said. Emotions ran high. But in the end it came down to numbers.

"Destinations out of St. Louis have dropped," Loy said. "It's getting tougher and tougher to get places through there."

So Cape Girardeau's Airport Board and City Council threw their weight behind Big Sky Airlines' proposal for 19 weekly flights to Cincinnati. The Transportation Department agreed. Flights to Lambert ended in March.

Trying to regain flights

Next time around, Kinsey said, he plans to work hard to bring those flights back to Lambert. The airport will partner with Great Lakes Aviation, which runs EAS flights to Burlington, Iowa, and three cities in Illinois, to promote Lambert's American Airlines connections and fares that are lower than those in Cincinnati.

"It's up to us to get with these communities and make our case," he said. "Nobody from Cincinnati is going to go to Cape Girardeau" to win a contract there.

The situation in Columbia is a bit different.

In October, Air Midwest won a bid to fly 12 weekly flights each way to St. Louis and Kansas City as a feeder for US Airways. But from the start service was unreliable, said airport manager Kathy Frerking. Delays were common and passenger traffic slumped as many passengers hopped a two-hour shuttle van to Lambert or Kansas City. In March, just 1,335 travelers used the airport.

So last month, Air Midwest proposed a change. It would run all 24 of its weekly flights to Kansas City, where it owns gates and has maintenance crews and planes stationed.

Part of Air Midwest's problem in St. Louis has been working around other airlines' schedules, said Jeff Hartz, director of EAS service for Mesa Air, the parent of Air Midwest.

"Having our own station in Kansas City allows us to control our product a little better," Hartz said. That, he hopes, will mean better connections and fewer delays.

The switch still needs DOT approval, but it has the support of Columbia officials, who are hungry for better service. Air Midwest wants to make the switch by July, so days are numbered for that 19-seat prop flight out of Lambert.

When Flight 4743 pulled up to Columbia Regional Airport's red cinderblock terminal after a 35-minute hop across Missouri farmland from St. Louis, only two of the three passengers even got off. The third stayed on, bound for Kansas City, and he was joined by eight more, off to connect to the rest of the world from somewhere other than Lambert Field.

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