It’s airfare warfare in Aspen
Whatever Aspen tourism officials told Frontier Airlines last week when they courted the carrier to come to Aspen, we hope they made their very best pitch. Negotiations with the Denver-based low-cost carrier are about as critical as it gets when it comes to the future of commercial air service in Aspen. It’s no secret that it’s hard to get into Aspen, but having only one choice out of Denver only compounds the difficulty.And it’s been that way for a while, ever since Aspen Mountain Air and Mountain Air Express nose-dived in the late ’90s. That opened the door for United Airlines to capitalize on the Aspen market, which it has done without flinching.For years, United has boasted a monopoly on service between Aspen and Denver International Airport. The arrangement has proved to be profitable – and costly for consumers. Even Tuesday, the price for the lowest two-week advance fare for a one-way flight was $387.We’ve all either heard about, or experienced firsthand, the quality of United’s service to Aspen from Denver. From baggage woes to canceled flights, or being stranded in Denver for an entire day when the skies are clear, United has been inconsistent. Certainly, many of the horror stories have been exaggerated, and the blame for these travel woes can’t always be pinned on United.Statistics don’t paint a rosy picture of the service delivered by SkyWest, which manages Aspen flights for United and Delta. In January, SkyWest flights arrived on time into Aspen 47.06 percent of the time. And 15.44 percent of flights into Sardy Field were canceled, according to the Bureau of Transportation.For all of 2006, SkyWest flights arrived on time 68.25 percent of the time, with 8.45 percent of its flights being canceled. Nationally, flights arrived on schedule 75.45 percent of the time and had a cancellation rate of 1.71 percent.In June, Frontier is expected to identify the 15 Rocky Mountain region markets it will serve with its commuter service in summer 2007. The airline will use its Bombardier Q400 aircraft, seating up to 74 passengers.Frontier has a solid reputation. If it chose Aspen, there would be real competition for passengers flying between Aspen and Denver. You don’t have to be an economics whiz to know fares would drop and consumers would benefit, and service would likely improve. It’s a refreshing idea: two airlines competing for business between Aspen and Denver. And Aspen passengers (and businesses) would finally have something to cheer about, instead of groaning about exorbitant fares, lost luggage and time wasted in the waiting area.