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Strange: Condor Brings Transatlantic Service to… San Antonio?

In a significant development leaving many scratching their heads, Condor Airlines is set to introduce the first-ever long-haul service from San Antonio International Airport (SAT) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA). Beginning in May 2024, travelers from the Alamo City will have the opportunity to embark on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting South Texas to Europe without the hassle of a layover.

During a recent news conference, San Antonio’s Mayor Ron Nirenberg expressed his excitement, saying, “San Antonio, it is finally happening May of 2024. Get ready to fly to Europe.” This milestone flight, covering a distance of over 5,000 miles, will mark a historic moment for San Antonio, as the city’s airport opens its first direct route to Europe, an achievement described in a news release as “the most important thing to happen to San Antonio.”

Condor Airlines plans to operate this service three times a week, with flights departing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, making it a convenient option for travelers looking to explore Europe or visit friends and family across the pond. The airline will deploy the Airbus A330-900neo for this route, offering a total of 310 seats, which includes 30 in business class, 64 in premium economy, and 216 in economy class. This seasonal route will be available from May 17 through September 6 next year.

City Manager Erik Walsh highlighted the collaborative effort that brought this project to fruition, stating, “I will tell you that this has been hard, and we work as a team every single day. I will also tell you that that teamwork has led us to today’s news and this transformative announcement.”

San Antonio International Airport currently provides international flights primarily to various destinations in Mexico, including Cancun, Guadalajara, Leon, Mexico City, and Monterrey, served by carriers like Aeromexico Connect, Southwest, Sun Country (seasonal), VivaAerobus, and Volaris. However, with the introduction of Condor Airlines’ service to Frankfurt, the airport is poised to elevate its international connectivity.

Interestingly, an August report from MySA shed light on the incentives offered to airlines in an effort to attract direct flights to Europe. Local businesses, including H-E-B, USAA, Holt Cat, and Frost Bank, collectively raised more than $2 million to make this initiative a reality, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News.

However, as we look at the broader context and potential challenges, some questions arise. Why choose SAT when Austin’s Bergstrom Airport (AUS), just a little over an hour’s drive away, already provides access to a range of transatlantic flights, including British Airways to London Heathrow, KLM to Amsterdam, and Lufthansa to Frankfurt? Critics wonder why Condor would opt for SAT when these services are readily available to the traveling public at AUS.

Additionally, skepticism surrounds the long-term viability of this venture. SAT, characterized by its modest size and facilities, has faced criticism for its limited concessions and less-than-stellar customer service, spanning from rude TSA interactions to the behavior of airline staff. Some travelers may find themselves pondering whether the airport can sustain enough traffic to Frankfurt to support this new route over the long run.

Furthermore, the millions of dollars in incentives that have facilitated this groundbreaking seasonal service raise questions about its sustainability. Once these incentives expire, it remains to be seen whether Condor Airlines will continue to operate this route or if it will ultimately be discontinued after the initial season concludes in September 2024.

As San Antonio prepares to welcome its first long-haul European flight, the success and impact of this new service will be closely watched by both travelers and aviation enthusiasts. Whether Condor’s gamble on SAT proves to be a visionary move or faces challenges down the runway, only time will tell.

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