Plane seats a hot commodity, but options exist, official says |

Plane seats a hot commodity, but options exist, official says

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A local travel official is trying to dispel the perception that all flights in and out of Aspen are sold out for the rest of the winter season.

Most of United’s weekend flights at Sardy Field are booked up during February and March, but that’s no different than in past years, said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations company Stay Aspen Snowmass. Tomcich sent out an e-mail on Tuesday to let local media and members of the travel industry know that Aspen travel opportunities still exist for this winter.

“There are lots of empty seats left, and the perception is far worse than reality,” he said. “The reality is, there’s less capacity on United this year than last year, and that puts a greater pressure elsewhere. The point of the e-mail was to illustrate the scores of other options still available.”

United, the only carrier in and out of the Aspen airport from Denver International Airport, reduced its Aspen flights by 20 percent this winter season so finding a seat on the airline has been tougher. But Tomcich noted that Northwest airlines, which flies to Memphis and Minneapolis, is increasing its capacity by 50 percent beginning next Thursday. The carrier will add an additional flight to Memphis and offer three nonstops from Minneapolis.

In addition, Tomcich noted the “codeshare” between Northwest and Delta Air Lines, and United and U.S. Airways, which means travelers can make connections between airlines in different cities on one ticket.

“What it’s done is increased the number of cities served in and out of Aspen ” there’s hardly an airport on the eastern seaboard that’s not serviced by United, Northwest, US Airways or Delta,” Tomcich said. “Through these partnerships, the expanded distribution power is enormous.”

For travelers who must travel on weekends, Tomcich pointed to a number of flights through the Eagle County Airport on U.S. Airways. Because of the airlines’ new relationship with United, travelers could arrange to leave from the Aspen airport on a weekday via United.

Tomcich has also seen an increase in the number of travelers who fly into Eagle, Grand Junction and even Denver, and rent cars to drive to Aspen.

“We had a 92 percent occupancy rate New Year’s week, but we were down 20 percent on air capacity out of Denver,” he said. “It’s clear that people found other ways to get here.”

But he said there is still a concern about the future of travel to Aspen, and a need to encourage direct flights into Aspen.

“Flying into Aspen is incredibly convenient, and we need to find a way to meet the demand of people who want to fly directly in and out of here,” he said. “The demand is proved by the effort people make to get here.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]