Aspen air travel a disaster in 2006-07 |

Aspen air travel a disaster in 2006-07

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times file

ASPEN Aspen already has one factor working in its favor as it tries to improve airline service this ski season: It can’t get much worse.Winter 2006-07, by all accounts, was a disaster. There were 335 canceled flights in and out of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport that affected 15,000 passengers.The Aspen Skiing Co. estimated that it lost 30,000 skier visits – purchases of full- or part-day lift tickets – because of the problems. That spelled the difference between a good and an excellent season.Thirty-five percent of respondents in the Skico’s annual customer-service survey reported their flights were canceled or delayed.Aspen lodge operators heard earfuls from customers, many of them loyal return guests.”It was the No. 1 customer complaint,” said Joe Raczak, general manager of the North of Nell Condominiums.Air travelers, particularly those who frequent ski resorts, can deal with weather-related problems, Raczak said. But these travelers complained about a lack of friendly service from the air carriers, missing luggage and mechanical problems.SkyWest Airlines, operator of some of Aspen’s United Express service, said some of the problems were beyond its control. Legendary blizzards struck at the worst of times – paralyzing Denver International Airport at Christmas and New Year’s. Thousands of passengers destined for Aspen and Snowmass couldn’t get into or out of Denver, foiling their vacation plans.Then there was the bizarre problem that affected the CRJ-700 aircraft during its first winter of operation in Aspen. Numerous flights were canceled early in the winter when the barometric pressure dropped below the level at which the plane is supposed to fly.The problem never compromised safety, according to officials at SkyWest Airlines; it was more of a regulatory issue. SkyWest worked with aircraft manufacturer Bombardier and the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the airplane at lower barometric levels.Planes weren’t grounded for that reason after early February, and SkyWest Chief Operating Officer Chip Childs told the Pitkin County Commissioners in a recent meeting that the barometric pressure would be a “nonevent” this winter.Overall, SkyWest completed 89 percent of its flights. When “uncontrollable” cancellations due to weather and the barometer problem were eliminated, the figure leapt to 99 percent, according to company officials.Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations agency and the business community’s liaison with the airlines, envisions a better year in 2007-08. The odds of the weather being as bad at the same critical times this ski season are “astronomical,” Tomcich said. “You couldn’t have timed them any worse than last year.”