SkyWest calls in ringers
ASPEN After a winter of weather woes and barometric boondoggles for Aspen airport operations, SkyWest has responded by bringing in elite staff to smooth out the final month of the ski season.Some 15 visiting workers from SkyWest operations in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles are coming to Aspen this month and will stay until the airport closes April 9 for a planned 60-day runway renovation.The short-term workers are specialists in baggage and customer service, and many are trained in “difficult operations,” according to Sabrena Suite-Mangum, a SkyWest spokeswoman.”When everything isn’t running smoothly, that is their specialty,” Suite-Mangum said.
SkyWest administrators heard complaints from passengers, Aspen residents, area officials and members of organizations like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Suite-Mangum said.”The feedback is coming from every direction,” Suite-Mangum said.And after conference calls between Aspen/Pitkin County Airport officials and SkyWest, the company decided to beef up its operation for the last month in Aspen, much like it does in other seasonal destinations, Suite-Mangum said.”The lodging community just really stepped up,” she said. The visiting staff has found affordable short-term rentals in Aspen hotels and lodges. “That just speaks volumes about the community as a whole.”Jim Elwood, director of aviation at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, said getting passengers’ bags to Aspen has been one of the biggest challenges this season.
“The average Aspen visitor brings more bags than most,” Elwood said. And that just “magnifies the problem” of limited cargo space on the new regional jet, the Bombardier CRJ-700.With further complications because of bad weather and flights unable to take off because of restrictions on the CRJ-700s – the plane couldn’t take off when the barometer dropped too low, but the restriction has been lifted – baggage operations were backed up and separated many passengers from their luggage, Elwood said.Contingency plans like sending bags by road, by courier or on the next available flight haven’t always worked, Elwood said.”All of the sudden you’re kind of awash in bags in Aspen and in Denver,” Elwood said.SkyWest won best on-time carrier honors from 2003-05, but has “not been able to deliver the level of service” to its new routes in Aspen, Suite-Mangum said.
“It’s been one challenge after another,” Suite-Mangum said. But the extra staff is helping, and she hopes it will restore customer confidence.”We’ve had to take a step back and say, ‘What can we do different?'” she said.SkyWest officials are looking for additional full-time staff in Aspen and are brainstorming other long-term solutions, Suite-Mangum said.Area hoteliers at a meeting Tuesday of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association expressed their appreciation for SkyWest’s efforts and said the new staff has already made a difference.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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