San Antonio Airport Lands its First Nonstop Flight to Europe

Sept. 22, 2023
Condor plans to begin flying out of San Antonio International Airport to Frankfurt, Germany, in May, company and city officials said Thursday.

Sep. 21—San Antonio has landed its first-ever nonstop service to Europe, a milestone in the local hospitality industry's drive to introduce the city to overseas markets.

Condor, a German carrier, plans to begin flying out of San Antonio International Airport to Frankfurt, Germany, in May, company and city officials said Thursday.

The service will be seasonal, starting next year and running from May 17 through Sept. 6. The airline will operate flights three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

" San Antonio is intercontinental," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "We have arrived on the world stage."

Frankfurt-based Condor bills itself as Germany's "most popular leisure airline." Many of the carrier's planes are done up in green, gold or blue stripes, "inspired by parasols, bath towels and beach chairs," according to the company's website.

Condor's tight focus on leisure travelers is the reason the airline is opting for a seasonal route in San Antonio instead of one that's year-round.

Mikko Turtiainen, Condor's director of sales for the Americas, said the airline operates numerous flights to the Caribbean, Seychelles in East Africa and other destinations that are popular among Germans in the winter. As those become less popular in the summer, the airline switches to flying to U.S. cities.

Turtiainen said the airline wants to size up its first summer of service in San Antonio before considering whether to launch more international offerings here.

Even though Frankfurt flights will operate out of San Antonio less than four months a year, local officials say the new route will benefit business travelers, too — not solely vacationers — and could result in more German investment in local firms.

"These new flights obviously will help us open up some pathways to particular industries that are strong on both sides, including advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity," Nirenberg said.

Frankfurt is a business hotbed, with clusters of automakers and parts suppliers, telecommunications and information technology companies, chemical and pharmaceutical firms, and investment bankers.

City Manager Erik Walsh said the military — the city is home to the sprawling Joint Base San Antonio — will benefit from nonstop service to Frankfurt, as well as local automotive and pharmaceutical companies.

"There are potential opportunities we have to expand and strengthen those connectivities between the two economies," Walsh said.

Condor is little known outside Europe, but it is aggressively expanding its U.S. network and intensifying its competition with the German giant Lufthansa, its onetime owner. Last year, Condor launched first-time nonstop routes to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York's JFK.

At the time, the company said it was responding "to the extreme pent-up demand for North American travel."

Condor's decision to expand its network to San Antonio comes at a cost, though — to the city as well as the airline.

City officials agreed to give Condor $1.3 million worth of subsidies over the next two years. That includes about $374,000 in waived landing, terminal and inspection fees, and a $900,000 marketing grant that Airport Director Jesus Saenz said will help Condor sell San Antonio to European travelers.

Greater: SATX, the region's economic development arm, and Visit San Antonio, a public-private nonprofit that markets the city to convention planners and leisure travelers, created a fund last year to pay subsidies to airlines to support new nonstop service. The fund held about $2 million as of August.

Instead of a cash grant to Condor, the organizations agreed to tap the fund for payments to the airline if the number of travelers buying tickets for the service is lower than projected, effectively making up the difference in revenue. However, the groups' top executives said they don't expect to spend anything on the Frankfurt flight because they anticipate high passenger counts.

Visit San Antonio will open an office in Germany on Oct. 1 to work on digital marketing and to sell tour operators and travel agents on San Antonio, CEO Marc Anderson said. Visit San Antonio opened a small London office in October last year.

Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of Greater: SATX, cheered the potential economic payoff.

"With each new nonstop flight, our region is better positioned to support and attract new corporate growth that, in turn, develops greater career opportunities for the San Antonians here today and those it will attract in the future," she said. "That's what gets me so excited, frankly — the opportunity to continue to grow greater jobs for San Antonians and ultimately provide pathways to economic mobility and prosperity."

Supply and demand

Condor already was serving Las Vegas, Anchorage, Halifax and other North American destinations before launching its latest expansion last year. The carrier has a codeshare partnership with Alaska Airlines, meaning travelers can use mileage points earned with the Washington-based carrier on Condor flights from the U.S. to Frankfurt.

The carrier is replacing its long-haul fleet with new A330neos, wide-bodied airliners manufactured by European conglomerate Airbus. The planes have 310 seats — 30 business class, 64 premium economy and 216 economy.

Starting fare for round-trip business-class seats is just over $2,000, Turtiainen said. Premium economy seats cost about $1,200.

Tickets are on sale now.

Flights to Frankfurt will take 10 hours and 15 minutes, and 11 hours and 25 minutes to return to San Antonio.

City officials said demand is at the heart of Condor's decision to start service in San Antonio.

Saenz said about 300 people per day traveled to Europe from the San Antonio airport in 2022. Roughly the same number of European travelers landed at the facility daily.

A report commissioned by Greater: SATX and Visit San Antonio shows that 31 passengers a day go through San Antonio International on their way to or from Frankfurt, along with 42 headed to or from London. That works out to 22,630 passengers a year going back and forth to Frankfurt and 30,660 flying to and from London. Currently, those passengers are all taking one or more connecting flights to get to their destinations.

San Antonio International is at the start of a 20-year, $2.5 billion expansion. The work will include building a third terminal by 2028, remaking the small and outmoded Terminal A, and extending runways to accommodate long-haul flights to Asia or deep South America. But the airport can handle flights to Europe now; its runways are long enough for the wide-bodied jets that fly from the U.S. to Frankfurt and back.

City officials, Greater: SATX and Visit San Antonio are pursuing nonstop service to 18 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but London and Frankfurt have been a major focus.

London and Frankfurt are San Antonio travelers' top European destinations, Saucedo-Herrera said.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has had nonstop flights to London since 2014. Indeed, British Airways' announcement a decade ago that it would connect the airport to Heathrow Airport was one of the events that heralded Austin's status as an emerging capital of tech wealth and celebrity. Since then, the airport has added nonstop flights to Frankfurt and Amsterdam.


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