Air carriers making it easier to fly to Aspen with record number of nonstop flights
WEATHER BROUGHT WOES
The kickoff of holiday flight schedules didn’t work out as planned last weekend for the three commercial air carriers serving Aspen.
The first major winter storm of the season hit just as the carriers were increasing their service. There were 35 inbound flights scheduled Saturday on United, Delta and American. More than half of them didn’t make it due to weather, according to Bill Tomcich, the Aspen and Snowmass Village business community’s liaison with the airlines.
“It wasn’t just one of the largest single snowfalls in recent history as (Aspen Airport) that created problems, but Denver International Airport was also plagued by heavy snow on Saturday,” he wrote in a report to the local lodging industry on winter airline service.
Conditions returned largely to normal on Sunday with all but two of 32 scheduled flights landing in Aspen. Some of them made it with “hefty delays,” he said.
Now the weather looks good for a few days for the arrival of the next wave of holiday travelers.
There will be a record number of direct flights into the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport this winter but fewer flights from Denver than last season.
The three commercial air carriers serving Aspen are scheduled to operate flights with 223,130 arriving seats from December into April, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations booking agency. That is a small increase over last season and about 20 percent more than four years ago.
“We’re still a fraction shy of the 2010-11 season,” said Tomcich, the local business community’s liaison with the airline industry. However, while there have been more available seats in some recent years, he believes the number of passengers boarding in Aspen will be the highest since the early 1990s. The occupancy rate, known as load factor in the airline industry, is higher for Aspen flights these days.
United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Airlines will all offer nonstop service from Los Angeles International Airport. American and United also are going head-to-head with direct flights from Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Other nonstop flights are coming from Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Houston.
The carriers shifted to their full schedules last weekend, only to see their best-laid plans scuttled by the first major snowstorm of the winter (see factbox).
United reduces Denver flights
United will operate as many as nine flights per day between Aspen and Denver, down from as many as 12 daily last season.
“There’s less peaking on Saturdays than there was last year,” Tomcich said. That should help reduce congestion on the busiest day of the week at the airport and “further improve reliability,” he said.
The demand for service between Aspen and Denver remains high, but SkyWest Airlines, which operates the Aspen service for United, doesn’t have as many CRJ-700 aircraft as it did before, Tomcich said. That’s forcing United to reduce its frequency of flights that service Colorado ski-market airports, he said.
SkyWest is expanding the number of Embraer 175 aircraft in its fleet.
“They just can’t get that aircraft to work for Aspen yet,” Tomcich said.
In addition to the service from Denver, United is offering five daily flights from Chicago, four daily from Houston, four daily from Los Angeles and as many as three daily from San Francisco during the holidays and other busy times of ski season.
Delta, American add service
United remains the 800-pound gorilla at the Aspen airport, but Delta and American are gaining ground. Their additional service this season boosts their combined share of the market to about 25 percent, according to Tomcich’s calculations.
American’s peak schedule includes three flights daily from Dallas-Forth Worth plus one daily flight from Chicago and one from Los Angeles. The carrier will offer 5,120 more seats into Aspen this winter than last season, Tomcich said. That boosts its total available seats to nearly 35,000 for the ski season.
Delta’s service for the holidays includes one daily nonstop flight from Atlanta and Minneapolis and additional service this season from Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. The Minneapolis service will be cut after the holidays, but the carrier is still adding 12,710 seats to Aspen this winter. Its total capacity will be about 22,500 seats, an increase of 137 percent, Tomcich said.
More direct flights mean more customer satisfaction. Tomcich said air travelers want to reduce transfers and land as close to their destination as possible.
The added flights allow customers to “connect the dots more effectively,” he said. For example, the competition among the three airlines in Los Angeles means Australians flying to Aspen will have more options.
The Colorado Business Economic Outlook for 2017 by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder cited added flights at resort airports as an important factor in the state’s ski industry maintaining its market share.
The competition in the Los Angeles and Chicago markets has helped reduce fares from those destinations. However, on high-demand days, the fares remain high. The carriers offer lower fares to travelers willing to arrive on days other than Saturday. Tuesday is generally the best day to fly, Tomcich said.
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In the 1960s The Red Onion as the Aspen Ski Club would host an annual ski fashion preview, which in addition to clothing also included live music and a strip auction.