ST. LOUIS -- American's plan to take over and maintain TWA's hub at Lambert-St. Louis Airport is good news for business travelers, according to Jack O'Neill, president of corporate travel at Maritz Travel here.

"American is a quality airline," said O'Neill. "Having a hub here means St. Louis business travelers are still going to get the schedules and service."

O'Neill said a few of Maritz's clients have corporate contracts with TWA, which are still intact. But when American acquires TWA's assets, renegotiations will likely take place, he said.

"I suspect that many of those contracts will go to American," said O'Neill.

Southwest Airlines has a significant presence in St. Louis, but most corporate travelers prefer TWA, said O'Neill, because they perceive TWA's mileage program as being stronger and because TWA provides access to larger markets.

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American said operating a hub in St. Louis will help the carrier increase its East-West traffic by taking some pressure off O'Hare in Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, two crowded American hubs. Plus, American said the local market in St. Louis is large enough to make a hub profitable.

Ed Faberman, a Washington-based lawyer and airline-industry consultant for Radius, a travel management consortium, said he believes an American hub in St. Louis would work only if the carrier has different focuses in Chicago and St. Louis.

"What American probably will do in Chicago is focus on connections to international markets and larger U.S. cities, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver and Phoenix," said Faberman, who also is the executive director of the Air Carrier Association of America, a group of small and new-entrant airlines.

In St. Louis, Faberman said he expects American will offer connections to large cities but not as much frequency as in Chicago. He said regional jet service to smaller markets is the way to go in St. Louis.

"In St. Louis, where American will not have a hub competitor [such as United at O'Hare], American can have regional jet operations and have no [competition]," said Faberman.

"American can't offer the same service in Chicago and in St. Louis," Faberman continued. "It has to offer some kind of [unique] product in St. Louis, or [another carrier] will come in there."

Faberman conjectured that small markets, such as Bloomington, Ind., and Springfield, Ill., will be the type of cities that will be served out of St. Louis.

If Faberman's forecast proves correct, business travelers in St. Louis would have a lower frequency of flights to larger cities and higher fares -- not good news.

"American will raise fares," said Faberman. "It won't charge what TWA was charging. TWA had to give better deals because it had a smaller market share and a smaller network than other [major] carriers.

"It had to offer some incentive for people to fly [with it]."

Southwest will offer lower fares, but Faberman, like O'Neill, said he believes Southwest isn't a threat to American in the realm of corporate travel because Southwest doesn't fly to many of the busier markets -- an inconvenience to business travelers.

Even if American isn't viably threatened by competitors in St. Louis, Southwest said don't count on American to ultimately operate a successful hub out of the city.

A spokesman at Southwest pointed to American hub operations that failed in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Nashville, and San Jose, Calif.

"American says a lot of things," said the spokesman. "In this business, long-term planning is two days, and that's the way it will always be."


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