The Liberator

ATX to EU

New flights expedite journey

Mateen Kontoravdis, editor-in-chief

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Over 150 people move to Austin every day, adding to the city’s traffic. The roads are not the only place experiencing congestion though. Five miles southeast of downtown, Austin Bergstrom International Airport has experienced passenger growth which exceeds the national average by over 200 percent each year. Last year, the airport handled over 15.8 million passengers in a terminal built for only 11 million. As city officials work to address overcrowding issues, the airport continues to handle record numbers of passengers each month.

Despite the congestion problems, the airport has benefited from the recent growth seen in Austin. An increased Central Texas customer base has allowed airlines to add more routes to destinations across North America and Europe. British Airways took a chance with Austin five years ago, when the carrier began flying nonstop from the Texas capital to London’s Heathrow Airport. This was the Waterside, U.K.-based airline’s first time serving a secondary U.S. airport instead of adding an additional at a larger hub airport. For Austinites, this flight meant a direct connection to Europe for the first time ever.

Sophomore Anastasia Louca flies to Cyprus every year to visit family and has benefitted from the ability to make her trip a one-stop journey.

“It is much less stressful to only make one connecting flight,” Louca said. “One connection in the whole trip makes the whole thing easier.”

Senior Zayan Vohra has taken advantage of the flight which connects him to family in England, but does not believe the airline lives up to its price point.

“I like them for pioneering the first Austin to London flight, but it seems that over the years, their customer service and the quality of food and entertainment has gone downhill. It’s so darn convenient that it’s worth it, but I’d love it if the flights were a little more enjoyable.”

British Airways quickly found success on the Austin route, and competitors took note. German leisure carrier Condor began connecting Frankfurt with Austin in 2016, and operated for three summer seasons before pulling out of the market this year. While they offer attractive prices, their fares are bundled and ancillary fees can quickly add up. Senior Andy Mueller travelled to Germany with Condor and was satisfied with the flight despite the reduced amenities.

“One drawback was that the seats were very small, and it makes it hard to get comfortable enough to sleep,” Mueller said. “It was definitely more convenient than the traditional flights that stop in Dallas or New York that I’ve taken in the past.”

Both the departure and arrival can be more convenient in the smaller Austin airport. Mueller said the customs process when he re-entered the US was seamless, especially compared to hub airports such as those in Houston and New York.

“Another thing that was very convenient was US customs in Austin,” Mueller said.

This summer, three airlines will offer the most seats ever between Austin and Europe. In addition to British Airways’ year round daily flight, Norwegian Air U.K. began its second summer season in Austin early in March, ahead of the SXSW festival. The low-cost long haul carrier offers three times weekly flights to London Gatwick Airport until October. One-way tickets for Norwegian’s Gatwick flight start at $450 for the month of June. Like Condor, Norwegian offers an unbundled fare that charges extra for checked bags, seat selection and meals. When Vohra learned about a cheaper alternative for getting to London via Norwegian, he was hesitant to give them a try due to the airport of arrival.

“I’ve never flown Norwegian to London Gatwick, but I’ve flown in and out of Gatwick for other trips,” Vhora said. “Frankly, I don’t really like Gatwick. Heathrow is bigger, cleaner, and there’s lots to do. I love it’s ‘vibe.’ Every time I’m there I’m filled with a sense of wonder and excitement, so I think I’d much rather enjoy flying in and out of Heathrow rather than Gatwick.”

In addition, for the first time ever, Europe’s only five star carrier, Lufthansa, will link Austin with Frankfurt five times weekly year round beginning on May 3, 2019. With Lufthansa’s announcement to serve Austin last year, Condor decided to pull out of the market. Being a full service carrier similar to British Airways, Lufthansa is expected to offer fares competing with British Airways rather than Norwegian.

Austinities have options to travel to Europe now, but the airport still lacks a direct connection to Asia. Last year, the airport announced that it was in talks with China Southern Airlines and Korean Air for a potential direct connection to an Asian city. Korean Air recently pulled out of its Houston to Seoul route due to high competition. The airline may be considering moving the route 250 miles west to Austin.

Many Asian carriers have not yet embraced secondary U.S. cities and are still fully focused on strengthening their service to various U.S. megalopolises and hubs.

For students flying to a country in Asia, a stop in another U.S. city is required. Senior Lochlyn McClure spent summer 2018 studying abroad in Japan and hopes to return soon.

“The flight is a bit long because it is overseas, but it would not have been as tiring if I hadn’t had to go through another airport such as Chicago or Los Angeles,” McClure said.

McClure plans to do her undergraduate studies in Texas, but she hopes to do her masters in Japan.

“I don’t think a direct connection between Austin and Asia would affect my choice to get a masters in Japan,” McClure said. “However, it would certainly make my mother feel more comfortable with me living and studying abroad if there was a more direct connection.”

As the airport continues to experience rapid passenger growth, Austinites should expect more international flights in the future. The airport recently opened phase one of its nine-gate east terminal expansion. With the new terminal extension, the number of gates tripled, to six gates. With the new state of the art facility, Austin Airport claims it will be able to attract even more airlines and flights. While the airport continues its search for an Asian connection, it hopes to continue expanding European service, with Paris and Amsterdam at the top of the airport’s wishlist for future service. Vohra hopes to see more direct flights to and from Austin.

“Direct flights to Europe are awesome,” Vohra said. “There’s less confusion, places to get lost, and intra-airport transit required. Simply get on the plane, lay back, and relax while everything’s taken care of.”

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The Student Run Newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy
ATX to EU