Flights into Aspen are picking up with pent-up travel demands
The end of Aspen’s winter season and the upcoming summer tourist season are looking up after American Airlines added more flights and a new direct flight from Austin, Texas, an official said Wednesday.
The 19 scheduled summer flights per day — including the new service from Austin — rival the record of 20 flights per day set in 2019, said Bill Tomcich, a local airline consultant.
“It’s very impressive,” Tomcich said Wednesday. “(Airlines) are very bullish on leisure travel. And this market in particular has been performing better than other mountain markets.”
First things first, though.
The rest of the winter ski season is really looking up, Tomcich said, especially after a bleak January with record-level cases of COVID-19 that shuttered restaurants and led to plunging hotel reservations. January is generally a month that sees many international travelers from places like Australia and Brazil, he said, as well as an influx of spectators for the Winter X Games, which didn’t allow spectators this year.
February improved a bit, however, with airplane load factors up to 63% from around 50% in December and January, according to Tomcich. Total flights in February were down 31.5% over February 2020 numbers.
But March and the first half of April are definitely looking up, he said. United Airlines has sold out all its flights in early April, which is leading to a shortage of capacity at that time, Tomcich said.
Between March 4 and 27, United and American are operating between 22 and 27 flights a day into Aspen, according to Tomcich. Between March 28 and April 5, the two airlines plan to bring between 11 and 16 flights a day into Aspen’s airport. Even offseason flights between April 6 and May 5 are scheduled for more than ever before, he said.
“We’re seeing an incredible surge of demand for the rest of March and into April,” he said. “April is gonna be busier than usual.”
The increasing number of vaccinations, the solid spring snow and the fact that the Pitkin County Board of Health recently heeded a recommendation from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to curtail the traveler affidavit program and make a negative COVID-19 test a recommendation rather than a requirement all added to the surge, Tomcich said.
Rich Englehart, the airport’s interim director, said he’s noticed the difference in traveler numbers.
“We’re seeing the increases,” he said Wednesday. “I think the vaccines are having an impact and people are starting to travel. I think there’s pent-up demand.”
For the upcoming summer tourist season, Tomcich said he sees nothing but good news so far.
American Airlines’ Saturday non-stop flight from Austin — which begins June 5 — is the first new service route into Aspen since 2017, when a non-stop from Phoenix began, he said.
“Really it’s American that’s gone big,” he said. “They’ve gone as big this summer as they did this winter.”
American has scheduled 10 daily flights into Aspen this summer, including five from Dallas-Fort Worth, two each from Chicago and Los Angeles and one from Phoenix. The Phoenix flight hasn’t run since 2019, Tomcich said.
United Airlines has scheduled nine flights per day during the summer, with four coming from Denver, two from Houston and one each from Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Delta Airlines suspended service to Aspen because of the pandemic, though Tomcich said he’s spoken to representatives and the airline is still interested in returning. The airline, however, needs to find planes that can fly in to Aspen’s high altitude airport because many of the CRJ-700s it used to operate through Sky West have now been converted to use by American, which is allowing that airline’s expansion to Aspen, he said.
“The good news is the demand is coming back,” Tomcich said. “All the airlines are bullish about potential leisure travel demand for the summer.”
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Warm and dry conditions to start the winter have kept all but the higher elevation slopes free of snow. That is expected to change by the end of the week and the avalanche hazard could start to climb, according to Colorado Avalanche Information Center.