In August, many Saint Louisans (myself included) were excited to hear that Iceland’s budget airline Wow Air will begin operating flights to and from Lambert Airport next May. By chance, I happened to be in Europe and had recently flown with Wow Airlines when the news was announced. While I was initially thrilled by the thought of low-cost, transatlantic flights emanating from Saint Louis, it turns out that there was more to the story than initially met the eye.
Wow’s expansion into St. Louis could be more of a curse than a blessing because of the cost to the city’s tax base from taxpayer-funded subsidies. The largest of these will come from the Saint Louis County Port Authority, which will provide $600,000 to advertise Wow’s services over the next two years. However, the fun doesn’t stop there; Lambert Airport (a public entity) will contribute another $200,000, and Wow’s landing fees will be waived for 18 months (a subsidy of nearly $400,000).
Unfortunately, corporate welfare seems to have become standard operating procedure for cities, usually to their own detriment. And while the example of Wow Airlines is not the most dramatic, it does show the pervasiveness of corporate welfare in Missouri. It’s great that a European airline wants to enter the Saint Louis market, but should taxpayers really be subsidizing their neighbors’ travel expenses?