United official visits local travel group | AspenTimes.com

United official visits local travel group

Naomi Havlen

This workweek passed by without much local concern over the bankruptcy of United Airlines, the airline Aspen depends on for commercial flights from Denver.

Several local travel officials said they don’t expect the bankruptcy to affect the daily United Express flights between Denver and Aspen.

An account executive from United’s Chicago headquarters spoke to the staff of Stay Aspen Snowmass this week and echoed those sentiments.

“It was very reassuring to have someone from corporate headquarters directly answering questions from our staff,” said Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich. “His answers were 100 percent consistent with what I’ve been saying – it’s business as usual.”

The Aspen Airport’s full winter schedule begins today at Sardy Field: 14 total flights in and out of Aspen on weekdays, and 16 flights on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s the busiest United Express has been at the local airport since the 1997-1998 ski season, Tomcich said.

“Operations have been absolutely normal here at the airport – we haven’t noticed any effects from the United bankruptcy,” said Jim Elwood, director of the Aspen Airport. “We’re gearing up for a significant increase in operations.”

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Besides the full winter schedule, the airport is also welcoming the first nonstop flight from San Francisco today at 2:35 p.m., if not a little sooner due to tailwinds, Elwood said. Olympic Gold Medalist Johnny Moseley, freeskiing pioneer Scott Schmidt and Aspen Chamber Resort Association President Hana Pevny will be aboard the inaugural flight.

In addition, the second-annual Aspen Ski Plane, shuttling skiers from the front range to Aspen/Snowmass for $99 roundtrip, will take off on Monday. The service will end April 4 (see related story, page A3).

On Wednesday Stay Aspen Snowmass and the Aspen Skiing Co. released a top-10 list of reasons to feel confident in booking travel with United this winter, titled “Business as Usual.” The list includes the airline continuing to honor frequent flyer benefits, the 2002/03 Aspen-Denver flight schedule confirmed, and strong advance bookings for ski resort flights.

Barry Lefkowitz, president of Aspen Ski Tours, said he’s confident the Ski Plane flight is not one of the flights United will cut from its schedule because of how profitable it is.

“They might cut a flight between Cincinnati and Chicago because it’s an unprofitable route where they have a lot of excess capacity, but not the Aspen-to-Denver flight,” he said. “You have to remember that this flight is a 200-mile, 40-minute flight that people pay the equivalent of $300 to take. They don’t cut flights like that.”

Lefkowitz said the flight has competition for seats from both second-home owners in the area who travel frequently, as well as visitors.

“We do see fairly full flights,” he said.

Tomcich said Aspen is United’s fifth-most-popular nonstop route from Denver, out of 81 nonstop destinations from the Denver hub. And of the two hubs in the center of the country that United dominates – Chicago and Denver – Denver is the only one where United does not compete with Southwest Airlines or another airline’s hub.

Tomcich said that bodes well for the future of United’s Denver hub remaining strong.

“Whatever the Denver hub ultimately looks like is what our connecting service will shadow,” he said. “United clearly is our strongest and most important airline partner.

“As a community we rely heavily on them, but my belief is that the Denver hub is one of United’s key strengths as a major commercial airline.”

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