United increases flexibility around events in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

United increases flexibility around events in Aspen

Naomi HavlenAspen Times Staff Writer

United’s summer schedule of flights in and out of Aspen may be a work in progress, but it’s turning into a masterpiece for tourists, says one travel official.Although the Aspen airport will see a 17 percent loss in seat capacity this summer, the airline is increasing flights when locals and visitors most need them, such as for major holidays and events including Independence Day and the Food & Wine Magazine Classic.”I have to say in my 14 years of working with the airlines, I never seen them react to the specific demand of the marketplace like United is doing this month,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass. “It speaks highly to how closely they’re monitoring our daily demands and fluctuations.”Five flights a day will come into the airport until June 10, when the number of flights coming into Aspen will increase to keep up with the popular travel days before the Food & Wine Classic. The Classic gets under way June 14. On June 11 there will be six daily flights between Denver and Aspen, nine flights on June 12, eight flights on June 13, seven flights on June 14 and eight flights on June 15-16.Similar fluctuations occur around the Fourth of July weekend.Tomcich said two of the flights that have been eliminated from last summer’s schedule were “empty positioning flights,” meaning the airline was selling a handful of tickets to customers during trips when they needed to shuttle a plane from point A to point B. Instead, this summer United will keep three planes overnight in Aspen to eliminate those empty flights.That leaves Aspen with three daily inbound arrivals after 5:30 p.m. and three departures from Aspen before 10 a.m., Tomcich said. The new schedule should make it easier for United to fill flights, he said.”It’s really no loss to us, because nobody flew on those flights,” he said. “Our net loss is more like one flight five days a week. Last summer Monday through Friday, they never ran 80 percent full during even the busiest of weeks. This year they’re capable of carrying just as many passengers.”Tomcich said airlines weren’t able to make this sort of scheduling adjustment two years ago. In the post-Sept. 11 economic downturn for the airlines, planes have been sitting empty in storage lots, and now airlines are figuring out how to make a smarter business model, he said.”It’s a schedule for us that makes more sense, and a schedule to be proud of,” he said. “United and Air Wisconsin [the airline that flies United Express between Denver and Aspen] are being more responsive to our market’s special needs than they ever have in the past.”America West Express will continue to operate two daily flights between Aspen and Phoenix, and Tomcich said American Airlines recently added a new daily flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to the Eagle County Airport beginning June 14. Those flights combined with United into Aspen make for a higher total of seats into Aspen and Eagle airports than last summer.[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]