Joshonsteak and sundae

I'm Going to Miss AA's Hub at STL

American Airlines announced recently that it was severely cutting flights at STL, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, which is effectively ending STL's standing as an AA hub.

The move makes perfect sense. American inherited the hub from TWA, which left it with three hubs in the central time zone, and two within 300 miles of each other. Having hubs at both ORD and STL is just wasteful, and it came as no surprise to American customers that the bulk of STL's flight load was simply shifted to Chicago.

All that being said, I'm really going to miss the STL hub. Here are five reasons why:

1. Transferring through STL has always been the easiest way to score an elite upgrade. For example, to fly from LAX to ATL on AA, I have to transfer through one of the midwest hubs. Of course, if I fly through DFW or ORD, the flight on to Atlanta is usually on mainline aircraft (an MD80 or 738), whereas if I fly to STL, I have to endure that last leg to ATL on an American Eagle regional jet.

But here's why STL is/was awesome. The LAX-DFW and LAX-ORD flights are always teeming with elite flyers and people on international reward itineraries. That means that the chances of getting an upgrade -- even as a top-tier Executive Platinum, nevermind being Plat or Gold -- can be slim. But I've never missed an upgrade (knock on wood) on an LAX-STL flight, even as an AAdvantage Gold member. STL is a smaller hub (especially for international flights), which means that there are few elite members and award-ticket-flyers to take up space in the first class cabin.

Whenever I have to fly to the east coast, especially if a direct flight isn't a possibility, I always consider booking a stop in STL, with that pretty-much-guaranteed upgrade. Some itineraries I've flown this year: LAX-STL-MKE, LAX-STL-LGA, LAX-STL-ATL, LAX-STL-BOS, LAX-STL-AUS.

So I'll miss flights through STL being the easiest upgrades in the system.

2. St. Louis-based flight crews are awesome. So are the gate agents and the ticket agents and virtually anyone who deals with customers. I suspect that might be because the bulk of these crews worked for TWA before the merger/takeover. Maybe it's because they work in a more laid-back airport, or because people from Missouri are nice. I'm not sure. I just know that they're awesome, and offer (as a general rule) some of the best customer service in the company. It makes me sad that a bunch of these folks are going to lose their jobs.

3. STL offers gorgeous takeoffs and landings. I don't know a lot about runway configurations and such, but a bunch of flights to and from the St. Louis airport put you directly over downtown. It's hard to beat the beautiful views of the Gateway Arch, new Busch Stadium, and the rest of downtown St. Louis.

4. STL has great terminals. I should admit that I'm mostly referring to Concourse C, which is AA's, but I hear the rest of the airport is similar.

Lambert's terminals aren't old and falling apart. They have new flat-screen TVs, the same airport chain restaurants (Chili's, Wolfgang Puck, Jose Cuervo Tequileria), and comfortable gate areas (with rocking chairs!). There's also a full-service USBank branch.

But here's the thing: You never have to search for a seat at the gate or wait for a table at the restaurant. For a major airline hub, STL is quieter than ORD and DFW, which means transferring there is a real pleasure.

Of course, maybe all that quietness explains why AA is reducing operations there...

5. STL had great airplane watching. I say "had" because this ended earlier this year. But up until then, Lambert was the home base for the 131st Fighter Wing, a unit of the Missouri Air National Guard. That means that it was pretty common to taxi right by a F-15 revving its engines, or to look out your window during takeoff and see a fighter plane ascending. I don't know how many other major commercial airports also host Air National Guard units and their fighter planes, but Lambert was the only one I regularly flew through.

Earlier this year, the 131st Fighter Wing became the 131st Bomb Wing, and they fly B-2's out of Whiteman AFB. The last F-15s left in June. It's a sad development for my inner five year old who loves watching fighter jets.

Bonus for Hunter: STL still has smoking lounges.

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