Aspen airport will see highest number of seats in 20 years | AspenTimes.com

Aspen airport will see highest number of seats in 20 years

A commercial airliner departs from Aspen-Pitkin County Airport last winter. the number of seats offered by the three air carriers will increase this winter over last year.

The number of seats the three commercial airlines have scheduled into Aspen-Pitkin County Airport this winter is up 7 percent from last season and is the highest in more than 20 years.

United, Delta and American have combined to schedule flights with 222,053 seats into the Aspen market this season from December through April. There were 207,616 actual seats last winter, according to numbers crunched by Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the local business community's liaison with the airlines.

Many of the increases will come during the heart of ski season.

"We have really good increases at the times we need them: Christmas, February and March," Tomcich said.

He noted that schedules beyond 60 days are subject to changes, so the number of seats could be altered in March and April.

As of Friday, United has scheduled 9,400 additional seats into Aspen over the course of the season, an increase of 2 percent over last ski season. United's flights account for 183,038 seats.

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United will offer more seats even though it is cutting back on April flights. Easter falls earlier this year, so all three airlines are curtailing flights earlier in April.

American Airlines added 9,417 seats to a total of 29,705. That is an increase of 46 percent over last season.

Delta Airlines added 1,120 seats for an increase of 14 percent. It's now up to 9,310 seats into the market.

Nonstop service from Chicago shows how the carriers keep an eye on one another. American added new, daily, nonstop flights from Chicago for the 2015-16 season. United responded by adding a fifth flight from Chicago during the busiest parts of the ski season and a fourth flight in January.

Most seats since early 1990s

If all goes as planned, there will be 34 commercial flights into (and 34 out of) Aspen starting today. That will be the most flights on any one day since the 1997-98 ski season, Tomcich said.

Those flights will account for the most seats since the early 1990s, when United and Continental duked it out for supremacy in Aspen.

All airlines will reduce their flights after Jan. 4, then ramp back up starting mid-February. Tomcich noted that an extra day in February accounts for part of the gain in seats for that month.

The total seats into Aspen-Pitkin County Airport on the three airlines will increase by 14 percent in December, nearly 10 percent in January, nearly 14 percent in February and 5.5 percent in March, all compared with last year. March is the busiest month with 58,846 seats.

The number of seats on scheduled flights will decrease 24 percent in April, according to Tomcich's exam of the schedules.

United boosts direct flights

United has scheduled more nonstop flights from major markets and coordinated them with its international service, Tomcich said. During peak ski-season times, it will operate five daily flights from Chicago, four daily flights from Houston, as many as five daily from Los Angeles and as many as three daily from San Francisco.

It will still operate between nine and 11 daily flights from Denver at peak times.

American added a third daily flight from Dallas during Christmas and New Year and has a daily Los Angeles flight as well as the new service from Chicago.

Delta offers daily service from Atlanta and expanded service from Minneapolis to as many as six flights per week during the holidays and two per week in February and March.

Tomcich said fares are currently "stable" for the winter. Flying into and out of Aspen is never cheap, but because of the increased number of flights there are few times when all flights are booked and, therefore, airfares haven't risen to astronomical levels, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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