Travel agents field worried calls about United service | AspenTimes.com

Travel agents field worried calls about United service

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s travel agents are fielding a steady stream of phone calls from travelers worried about whether United’s expected bankruptcy will affect their plans ? a concern the agents say shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

“Clients are ringing up and asking if they should book trips or gobble up their frequent flier miles as soon as they can,” said Jodie Hanson, a travel consultant with Aspen Travel Services. “Pretty much all we can believe is that things will continue to go as they are.”

The president and CEO of United Airlines, Glenn Tilton, made similar statements after a federal board voted against giving the struggling airline financial assistance.

The Associated Press, citing a source close to the company, reported Sunday that United Airlines plans to file today for federal bankruptcy court protection (see story, page 7).

“Whatever course we chart, it should be emphatically clear that United will continue to fly and deliver exceptional service to our customers worldwide,” Tilton said in a statement last week.

But since United Airlines is the dominant carrier at the Aspen airport, local travelers are not easily assured.

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Travel industry experts say flights should not be affected.

“Even if United does file bankruptcy, Chapter 11 allows them to operate depending on what a court judge says ? up to a year, 18 months, or even two years,” said Mel Pierce, a travel consultant with The Travel Agents. “Quite frankly, people should not be asking us these questions, because we don’t know any more than they do.

“We all watch the same Denver television stations, and the situation has been made clear by all of the reporters.”

Both Hanson and Pierce said they try to encourage travelers to set aside their concerns, even though the airline has been creating worrisome front-page headlines recently.

“We tell them that United will continue operating as far as we’re aware, but nothing is guaranteed in this life,” Hanson said. “They’re too big a company not to continue on, I believe. They’ve put in a lot of money for security concerns and retraining their pilots [after Sept. 11], and I don’t think they’d let that extra money go to waste.”

Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich pointed out that during the time period when Continental Airlines served as Aspen’s No. 2 air carrier, the company filed for bankruptcy twice without disrupting local service.

Currently, the Aspen airport is United’s fifth most popular nonstop route from its Denver hub during the winter, Tomcich said. That’s out of 81 nonstop destinations served by either United or United Express. Any changes that could affect United’s schedules will probably have very little affect on the popular route between Denver and Aspen, he said.

“People have a right to be concerned, but I think that if you’re that concerned about it, you could take out travel insurance,” Hanson said. “It might be worth it to you to take out a $35 or $60 travel insurance policy, which looks out for the millions of things that could result from you not catching your first flight.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]