Northwest resumes summer flights to Aspen
Flying into Aspen during the summer got easier and more competitive yesterday when Northwest Airlines announced it will offer warm-weather service for the first time in four years.Northwest will offer one nonstop daily flight between Minneapolis and Aspen from June 23 through Oct. 2. Northwest already offers winter service to Aspen from Minneapolis and Memphis. It offered summer service to Aspen from Minneapolis from 1999 through 2001.Northwest’s flights will add about 759 available seats into Aspen during the course of the summer. That’s an increase of about 10 percent over what was available last summer.Northwest “re-evaluated” summer service and concluded there was good potential for success, spokesman Thomas Becher said. “Aspen is a good market for us in the winter,” he said. “We saw it as a natural extension of our existing service.”Aspen airport officials and the business community work with airlines to look at expanded local service. That “legwork” from the past paid off, said Pitkin County Airport Manager Jim Elwood. He said Northwest’s decision demonstrates the confidence the airline has in the market.Resort areas sometimes must offer financial guarantees to persuade airlines to serve their markets. No financial guarantee was necessary in this case.”The key is the market can economically sustain that service,” Elwood said.Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the business community’s liaison with airlines, said Northwest discontinued its summer service to Aspen during the economic slump that followed Sept. 11, 2001. Airlines were facing tough times and examining all routes to eliminate those that weren’t profitable enough, he said.Since that time, Northwest and other airlines have found ways to lower their costs, Tomcich said. That gives Northwest a greater opportunity to make money on the Aspen service. Northwest serves the Eagle County- and Steamboat Springs-area airports during winters but isn’t starting summer service to either of them, Becher said.Northwest’s decision is significant for Aspen not only because of the additional seats, but because of how the service fits with its network of service, Tomcich said. The daily flight into Aspen leaves Minneapolis at 9 p.m., so it’s great for making connections from Northwest’s extensive network throughout the East, Midwest and South, Tomcich said. Minneapolis is one of Northwest’s busiest hubs.Tomcich said United Express recently announced that this summer it will duplicate its service into Aspen from Denver from last summer. That means 10 flights daily. It’s possible United Express will add extra flights on busy weekends like the Food & Wine Classic, like it did last year, Tomcich said. America West will also offer nonstop service from Phoenix again this summer.The additional competition this summer won’t automatically mean lower air fares for travelers. “Air fares change constantly, so it’s hard to say,” Becher said.As of yesterday, Northwest Airlines was offering a $429.41 round-trip fare between Aspen and Minneapolis on its nonstop flights. The Aspen Times checked air fare for flying into Aspen on Saturday, July 9, and returning on Saturday, July 16.United Airlines was quoting a price of $398.80 for those same dates on its website. Its service requires a connection in Denver.Northwest will serve Aspen with its 69-seat British Aerospace Avro RJ85. They will be operated by its Northwest Airlink partner Mesaba Airlines.The airline offers the only first-class service into Aspen. Its aircraft feature a 16-seat first-class cabin and 53 seats in the coach cabin.Northwest’s daily nonstop flight will leave Minneapolis at 9 p.m. and arrive in Aspen’s Sardy Field at 10:25 p.m. The flight leaves Aspen at 8:55 a.m. and arrives in Minneapolis at 12:10 p.m.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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