Aspen winter airline service tightens up |

Aspen winter airline service tightens up

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Travelers looking to book flights into and out of Aspen at peak times this winter might want to plan ahead.

That’s the advice of Bill Tomcich, president of local reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry.

Last winter, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport saw a boost in commercial seats, when American Airlines debuted service to the resort in mid-December, joining United Express and Frontier Airlines in flying into and out of Aspen. As many as 30 commercial flights a day were coming into the resort.

But Frontier, which had been flying four daily connections between Aspen and Denver, pulled out of the market at the end of the ski season, leaving United as Aspen’s sole year-round carrier. American’s summer service began in mid-June and ends Aug. 20. It resumes its connections between Aspen and both Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles for the winter on Dec. 15.

Though capacity will be down this winter compared with last season, the number of airline seats coming into Aspen for the ski season might be comparable to 2010-11, according to Tomcich.

“As far as recent history, last year was the high-water mark,” he said. Only in 1997-98 did Aspen enjoy more commercial airline capacity than it did last winter.

For travelers, a reduction in service will have ramifications, particularly at peak times during the ski season, Tomcich predicted at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.

“You’re going to have to book early to a secure a seat or pay a premium,” he told the board. “The airlines are going to do really well this winter.”

More travelers might find themselves flying into and out of Eagle or Denver and using ground transportation for the leg to and from Aspen as flights fill up.

This summer, commercial traffic was up in the early going. Enplanements (the number of people boarding a commercial flight) increased about 3 percent for the month of June in Aspen, with service from United and a half-month of operations by American.

American’s performance in Aspen so far could bode well for future expansion of its local service, according to Tomcich. The airline is in bankruptcy proceedings and has a limited fleet of the CRJ-700 jets that it uses for its Aspen service. Both factors are constraints on its ability to make changes to its local schedule at this point, he said.

“The good news is when it’s all said and done, I think they’re going to be very pleased with their numbers,” Tomcich said. “I know they’d like to be able to fly more – the question is how and when and with what.”

During American’s fall hiatus, travelers will have only United Express service into and out of Aspen. United’s nonstop connections with Chicago and Houston will end Aug. 28, but the airline will offer a connection with Los Angeles through Oct. 2, running the flight six days a week.

In addition, United will offer seven to nine connections with Denver daily in September before dropping to five daily flights from Oct. 1 through Dec. 18. The L.A. connection will resume Nov. 27. Connections to Chicago and Houston resume Dec. 19, as does United’s winter service between Aspen and San Francisco. The Los Angeles service bumps up to four flights daily on Dec. 19, and the Denver service will increase to an average of 11 daily flights on the same date.

On a side note, the four Q400 turboprops that Frontier used for its Aspen service before parent company Republic grounded them are back in the air – flying as United Express. They’re being repainted in United’s colors and have become part of a fleet of Q400s owned by Republic and operated as United Express through an agreement between the two airlines.

It is SkyWest Airlines that operates United’s Aspen service, using exclusively the CRJ-700.

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