United ups winter service into Aspen | AspenTimes.com

United ups winter service into Aspen

Janet Urquhart

United Airlines has made its promised additional winter service into Aspen official.

The airline loaded an expanded flight schedule into its central reservation system.

“It’s definitely the most seats we’ve had available since the 1997-98 ski season when Aspen Mountain Air and Mountain Air Express went out of business,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass, a local reservations agency.

Seats on 14 daily flights in and out of Aspen on weekdays and 16 flights on weekends are now available to book; the expanded service starts Dec. 13. In all, United Express will operate 102 flights in and out of Aspen from mid-December through the first week in April — an increase of roughly 23 percent from last winter’s schedule of 83 total flights per week, said Tomcich, who also serves as the resort’s liaison with the airline industry.

Until now, the resort’s biggest challenge in booking advance reservations was finding airline seats and connections to get visitors here when they want to come, he said.

“That was what our agents had been telling us was the biggest issue,” he said. “Over night, our greatest challenge has turned into our greatest opportunity.”

For the winter, United’s daily schedule includes 12 flights from Denver, one from Los Angeles and the new daily, nonstop flight from San Francisco. Two additional connections to Denver on the weekends boost the Saturday and Sunday schedule to 16 flights.

“Not only will the capacity increases alone help build traffic this winter, but the timing of these flights will allow connections from our most popular markets at practically any time of day — far better than we have ever had in the past,” according to Tomcich. That means United will be able to carry far more than 23 percent more passengers this winter, he said.

The additional flights also mean more discounted seats will be available, Tomcich noted.

A check with a local reservations agent on Monday indicated a range of airfares for randomly selected travel dates during the ski season.

The retail price of round-trip airfare for a long weekend in Aspen –Feb. 27 to March 2 — was $365.50 from Dallas, $395 from Milwaukee and $463 from Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles traveler would fly directly into Aspen, while the Dallas and Milwaukee flights would require connections in Denver.

In addition to United’s expanded flight schedule, Northwest will boost its daily service between Aspen and Memphis this winter. Northwest offered a daily connection to Memphis during just February and March of last winter. This year, the service will begin Dec. 18.

The Memphis flight will be scaled back to just Saturdays from Jan. 7-30, and then daily service will resume, along with an extra weekend flight, from Jan. 31 through April 5, according to Tomcich.

“This flight makes great connections from Florida, which so far is proving to be our No. 1 market this year with respect to advance bookings,” he said. “That makes it a lot easier for Floridians to get here.”

In addition, Northwest’s winter service between Aspen and Minneapolis will operate twice daily — plus a third flight on Saturdays and Sundays — from Dec. 18 through April 5.

America West Express is now scheduled to run two daily flights from Phoenix year-round starting Oct. 27 — an increase from the one daily flight it is currently operating. America West may still consider adding additional winter flights if bookings warrant it, Tomcich said.

Finally, American Airlines has added new, nonstop 757 service between the Eagle County Airport and Los Angeles four days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays). Its nonstop flight from San Francisco to Eagle County will be cut back from daily service to two days a week, operating on Thursdays and Sundays for the upcoming winter.

Overall, Aspen will see about a 13 percent increase in total seat capacity from mid-December into April, according to Tomcich.

“To put these additions into perspective, United just added more seats into our market than either Northwest or America West operate here during the entire winter,” he said.

Last winter, airline service into Aspen was cut in the wake of Sept. 11. United operated one flight a day between Los Angeles and Aspen, and 10 between Denver and Aspen, with three extra on the weekends.

United’s current off-season service into Aspen consists of five daily connections to Denver. If there is a lull in the resort’s winter service, it is between the Thanksgiving start of the ski season and the Dec. 13 jump in United’s service, Tomcich said.