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Frontier’s announcement is welcome news

It’s about time travelers who fly in and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport had something to cheer about.

On Thursday, Frontier Airlines announced it would offer nonstop flights between Aspen and Denver. This long-awaited news is great for passengers, and a shot in the arm of Aspen tourism. Indeed, last year Aspen tourism officials even threw $100,000 at Frontier to show the Denver-based airline how badly they wanted it.

And with good reason. After all, it’s been more than a decade since there has been more than one commercial airline flying between Aspen and Denver. The last time a commercial carrier competed head-to-head with United Airlines on the Denver-Aspen route was in the 1997-98 ski season, before Aspen Mountain Air went bankrupt and folded.

Frontier Airlines, like Southwest, is a low-cost carrier with a solid reputation. Sure, it nickel and dimes its customers like every other airline, but its service is relatively impeccable compared to its mighty competitors such as United and Delta. Its fares also are consistently much lower than United’s, and its presence at Sardy Field will shatter the Denver-to-Aspen monopoly that United has held for oh-too-long.

To United’s credit, it has stuck it out in the Aspen market when it could have easily bailed. Of course, it had a business model working in its favor ” mainly there being no competition between Aspen and Denver ” so it could charge unreasonably high fares.

While there have been numerous complaints about United’s service to and from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, Aspen tourism has been better with it than without it. But Frontier’s arrival will change the playing field dramatically, and fliers should be grateful.

Frontier’s announcement to serve Aspen also comes when United is close to completing its merger with Continental. Commercial aviation giants Delta and Northwest also are poised to become one, an arrangement that would give the two carriers a 28 percent command of the domestic market, according to published reports. The United-Continental merger, meanwhile, would result in a 36 percent controlling stake of the domestic market.

Indeed, the airline industry is contracting at a rapid pace, which means travelers can expect their fares to go even higher. It’s a fundamental truth in business, and these two mergers are no exception.

But locally, there’s a silver lining to the dark clouds of consolidation. And that’s that Frontier is tapping the Aspen market. We can only hope that Frontier delivers what it promises. If it does, flying Aspen’s skies will get only better ” and less expensive.


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