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United boosts flights

Aspen business leaders rejoiced yesterday when United Airlines decided to increase its weekend flight schedule during ski season to match last year’s level.

Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations, said United “loaded” extra flights Wednesday morning into the computer reservation system used by the travel industry throughout the world.

United’s affiliate, United Express, will fly 17 flights between Denver and Aspen and one direct from Los Angeles on Saturdays, according to Tomcich. On Sundays, Aspen’s primary air carrier will operate 15 flights between Denver and Aspen and one direct from L.A.

There will be 12 flights between Denver and Aspen on weekdays.

“It’s the exact same schedule as last season,” said Tomcich.

That’s 99 flights per week with an average seating capacity of 86 – or total seating of 8,514.

Up until Wednesday, only 12 weekend flights were registered in the reservation system. United sales representatives had told officials in the Aspen lodging and travel industries as well as the Aspen Skiing Co. in June that the number of weekend flights might not be boosted to last year’s level.

That triggered a lobbying effort headed by Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell.

“It was a serious concern, but there wasn’t a big effort needed” to get United Airlines to add extra flights, said John Norton, Skico Chief Executive Officer.

Norton said O’Donnell lobbied Roger Gibson, vice president of United’s Rocky Mountain region, last month about increasing winter weekend flights. Gibson reportedly acknowledged that cutbacks from last season’s schedule in the Aspen market was one of many options United was exploring.

Norton said the Skico is optimistic about business prospects for next ski season with United’s expanded schedule.

“We could use more on the weekends,” he said. “But they can’t deliver it and we didn’t ask for it.”

United Express is operated by Air Wisconsin in a partnership with United Airlines. United ultimately sets the schedule. Norton said United Express is doing all it can with the aircraft available to serve the Aspen market.

Neither United nor Air Wisconsin officials could be reached at their Midwest headquarters Wednesday evening for confirmation of the expanded winter schedule.


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