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A TORNADO CLOSES LAMBERT AIRPORT
By Joe Brancatelli
April 23, 2011 -- From the "it's always something" file: The strong storms and apparent tornado that ripped through the St. Louis area last night has whacked St. Louis-Lambert Airport hard.

There have been no fatalities and only five minor injuries at the airport. But the airport is closed indefinitely. Initial reports indicate that Lambert could be shuttered for several days as authorities assess and repair the damage.

As an airport, Lambert is a shadow of its former self. Once the major hub of TWA, it was progressively downsized by American Airlines, which purchased TWA a decade ago. Southwest Airlines now operates the most flights (about 85 daily) and other carriers, including the de-hubbed American, use St. Louis as a spoke. At least from the transportation standpoint, a multi-day closure of Lambert should only affect travelers headed directly to or from St. Louis and the environs.

If you want to keep up with details, here are some useful links:
    ST. LOUIS-LAMBERT WEBSITE: http://www.flystl.com/
    ST. LOUIS-LAMBERT TWITTER FEED: https://twitter.com/#!/flystl
    SOUTHWEST AIRLINES TWITTER FEED: http://www.twitter.com/southwestair
    KMOV-TV is in live coverage: http://www.kmov.com/home/Watch-live-streaming-storm-coverage-117035813.html

St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, who said he was "stunned" by the level of damage he saw at Lambert early this morning, claims that the airport could be back at 70 percent of flight capacity tomorrow and 100 percent capacity by the middle of next week. That is subject to incredibly basic elements such as the power being turned back on. What the carriers will do--what they can do--to resume flights at Lambert also remains to be seen.

If you need to get to the St. Louis area and flights don't return quickly, here are your options:
    Fly into Chicago (O'Hare or Midway). The drive down I-55 is about 300 miles.
    Fly into Indianapolis. The drive west on I-70 is about 230 miles.
    Fly into Kansas City. The drive east on I-70 is about 260 miles.

Your best flight options? Springfield, Illinois (http://www.flyspi.com/), about 100 miles away. There are flights from American Eagle, United Express and a public-charter carrier called DirectAir. Your next best flight option? Columbia, Missouri (http://www.flymidmo.com/). It's 126 miles from St. Louis. There are Delta flights from its Memphis hub. Two other close-by airports, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Quincy, Illinois, only have flights from St. Louis.

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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.