For Full Story: News-Press
Author: Laura Ruane
Direct flights to Germany are back, bigger than ever.
And for that, Southwest Florida International Airport threw a welcome party for Eurowings Thursday night.
Bad weather on the way delayed the arrival from Dusseldorf by about an hour.
But the plane still taxied under a ceremonial water arch provided by airport fire and rescue trucks. And flight attendants in retro-looking uniforms posed with airline and airport officials.
The budget airline of the Lufthansa Group launched local service to three destinations this week. They are:
– Twice-weekly flights to Munich, which started Tuesday.
– Thrice-weekly flights weekly to Dusseldorf, starting Thursday night .
– For a short period, once-weekly service between RSW and Cologne-Bonn. That’s starting Friday.
Kerstin Sussmilch was among the passengers awaiting the return flight to Dusseldorf.
She and her married friends Alex Eiternik and Rukiye Eiternik-Sokmen were finishing a three-week vacation in the United States that began in New York City.
Sussmilch had used Eurowings service from Cologne to Berlin before, and she expects to return to Southwest Florida again this summer to visit her boyfriend, who is Eiternik-Sokmen’s uncle.
Sussmilch’s favorite pastime on this Florida stay? “Going to the Everglades. I liked the alligators.”
Eurowings’ website last week showed one-way “basic” fares starting at around $581 (Munich) to $602 (Cologne-Bonn).
The local service to Cologne/Bonn ends June 8, however. An airline spokesman said Eurowings has decided to move four Airbus 330s based at Cologne/Bonn to Dusseldorf, where it plans to significantly expand its long-haul fleet.
Still, the schedule of five weekly flights — minus Cologne-Bonn — is one flight more than Air Berlin operated before bankruptcy forced it to end operations here in mid-October.
And the Dusseldorf flights weren’t part of the plan when Eurowings initially announced its intent to serve RSW.
One cool feature about the Dusseldorf flights is that they have a true business-class option, complete with seats that convert to lie-flat beds.
German-speaking visitors are important to Southwest Florida’s lifeblood tourism and hospitality industry that employs 1 in 5 people in Lee and Collier counties alone.
Southwest Florida International’s first scheduled German service began with LTU International on April 7, 1994, and continued when Air Berlin purchased LTU.
Between April 1994 and 2014, more than 1.2 million passengers traveled that original Fort Myers-Dusseldorf route.
Over time, many German visitors bought second or third homes here.
When Air Berlin went belly-up, the region around Dusseldorf lost a significant amount of its long-haul flights.
Stepping in to fill the gap, including the lost service to Southwest Florida, “was a logical step,” said Oliver Wagner, Eurowings chief commercial officer, who arrived on the inaugural flight from Dusseldorf.
When asked when he’d return to Southwest Florida, he replied:
“Myself? I hope to in July for vacation.”
And what about returning to announce still more new local service?
“We have a good start here,” Wagner said, adding, “If there’s a market for another flight, why not?”