Courtesy / San Antonio International Airport
What do Boston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. have in common? Answer: You can't fly there from San Antonio without going through another city.
As City Council reviews the 2015 proposed budget, department by department, it's clear one priority high on the list is growing the number of nonstop destinations reachable from San Antonio. The number is 33 today, but Aviation Director Frank Miller announced that number will grow by one when Southwest Airlines introduces daily, nonstop service to New Orleans starting in April.
Miller presented the Aviation Department's budget at City Council's B Session on Wednesday. For travelers, there was a lot of promising news.
Southwest announced last month that it would offer San Antonio travelers Thanksgiving Week nonstop flights to New Orleans, which Miller told Council was originally intended as a market test. That promotion will still happen, but the airline already has decided to add Saturday service to New Orleans in January and daily service in April, according to Miller.
Mexico remains a major focus. Four of San Antonio's 33 nonstop destinations are to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Toluca. Miller said two airlines now compete for Guadalajara passengers and starting in early 2015 two airlines will offer direct service to Monterrey. Miller said the City is seeking to add more destinations south of the border, presumably to some of the top resort destinations.
Miller said the Aviation team has formed a new task force with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to focus on winning more nonstop flights and adding flights to under-served cities, such as Philadelphia and Seattle, which can be reached via a single daily nonstop flight.
San Antonio is playing catchup. For years, investment in the airport was woefully inadequate. In 2009, the City launched a comprehensive review of airport operations and the result adopted by City Council in 2011 was Vision 2050, a long-term master plan.
Construction on Terminal B were completed in 2010, along with the addition of a new baggage handling facility. The $35.6 million renovation of Terminal A was completed this year. A planned $14 million expansion of the U.S. Customs inspection facility in Terminal A will add 11,000 square feet and double the hourly rate of processing passengers from 300 to 600. That work will be done only at night, when Customs is closed, and completed by 2018.
Ground will be broken on a $163 million close-in, consolidated rental car facility in June 2015 and be completed by June 2017. A gas station also will be opened on airport property.
Even with all that investment, San Antonio International ranks only 43rd among the nation's 430 metro airports. That puts San Antonio in the top 50, on the one hand, serving eight million passengers a year, or 22,000 daily. Yet it also means the airport size, passenger traffic, and number of flights is inadequate for a city and metro area of San Antonio's size.
Travelers think of airports as transportation hubs. City officials also recognize their importance as economic development engines, and as an asset that helps shape the city's national and international profile. For most visitors, the first look at San Antonio is a walk through the airport where first impressions count.
Visitors now enjoy a more contemporary experience with more retail venues, higher quality dining options, more restrooms, improved signage and monitors, and more inviting public spaces. Fruteria, Chef Johnny Hernandez's Botanero and Tequila Bar in Terminal A, was named one of the Best Airport Restaurants in America by Men's Health magazine earlier this month.
*Featured/top image: Aerial view of San Antonio International Airport. Courtesy photo.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the owner and chef of La Gloria and Fruteria. The correct name is Johnny Hernandez. The Rivard Report apologizes for the error.
This article was originally published on Aug. 28, 2014.