Jet or turboprop? The choice belongs to you
As head of this community’s central reservations agency and primary liaison with the airlines that serve us, when I see misinformation being printed about one of our valued travel partners, I am usually quick to rush to their defense. Recognizing that flying in and out of Aspen can be both a challenge and a barrier to growing our tourism business, I will occasionally send out blast e-mails that focus on promoting the many options that exist for our passengers and guests. I was happy to see yesterday’s letter to the editor from Mesa Air Dash-8 Captain Phil LeRoy correcting some of Andy Stone’s misperceptions in his recent opinion piece “To hell and back – on a turboprop.”I actually found Andy’s column thoroughly entertaining and amusing because it truly does depict the fears some of our guests have of flying in turboprops, especially when their expectation based on years of flying here is that the United Express flights have traditionally been operated exclusively with jet aircraft. My question to Andy is, if you despise flying in turboprops so much, why in the world did you CHOOSE to fly on one? The fact is that at any time of year, there are always at least as many “smooth, fast, convenient” BAE-146s flying in and out of Aspen as there are Dash-8s. As travel consumers, we do have a choice as to whether to fly in a Dash-8 or a 146. Because the first two flights of the day out of Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) and the last two flights of the day in are always operated by the 146s, there is not a destination on the planet served by United Airlines where we are forced to ride on a Dash-8 in order to make the connection. But because some of those Dash-8s, especially during our offseasons, offer connections at times when there is not enough demand to fill a 146, some folks do choose to ride in the Dash-8s for convenience sake as opposed to hanging around DIA for an hour or two for the next jet.If your travel agent did not offer you a choice of flying in a turboprop versus a jet, you should probably find another travel agent. But perhaps you did not book through a travel professional? Perhaps you tried to save a few dollars by attempting to book a travel itinerary on your own through an online travel website where you do not know what kind of aircraft you’ll be flying in until after you have purchased your ticket? So if you feel you ended up in purgatory or hell because of decisions you made, you only have yourself to blame!There is a lesson to be learned here: Trained and experienced travel professionals have access to lots of information at their fingertips, including many types of unpublished fares and lots of creativity that consumer travel sites do not come anywhere close to emulating. And when was the last time someone from online travel websites called you on your cell phone while you were traveling home to tell you that the weather here was going downhill, and in the event your DEN-ASE flight is canceled, that you have been protected on a later flight? And if things deteriorate further, you also have a backup one-way rental car waiting that you can drive back up the hill, or we can book you into a nearby hotel room and confirm you on the first flight into ASE tomorrow morning? This sort of VIP travel service is quickly becoming the norm of most successful travel professionals nowadays.Back to the issue of turboprops, I have a confession to make that will come as a surprise to many: Just like Andy Stone and thousands of frequent flyers everywhere, I too do everything I can to avoid flying on them. It’s not that I feel they are unsafe, but they are not a lot of fun on rough days. As a frequent flyer myself, I know that some aircraft types ride turbulence better than others. The BAE-146, with its high-wing, rides the rough air quite well relative to other aircraft of similar size. Even the Dash-8 provides a far more comfortable ride when compared with practically any other turboprop in its class. The poor folks from Grand Junction, Montrose, Durango and Telluride have a mix of even smaller turboprops that have nicknames! Folks in those communities view the larger and more stable Dash-8s that occasionally operate in and out of those airports as a significant upgrade.On the issue of the “third-world experience” at Gate 61, I agree that the experience of boarding through the “gun barrels” is not consistent with the expectations of Aspen-bound guests who often pay substantial premiums for the airline tickets. The good news is that DIA is quickly moving forward with plans to expand and improve their United Express facilities. The bad news is that this area is going to be a construction zone during the two-year construction process that has only recently begun.Most importantly, there is good news on the horizon for folks who prefer jet aircraft for their flights between Aspen and Denver: Beginning next Thursday, United Express’ full winter schedule of up to 13 daily flights takes effect. Of those, all but one (two on the weekends) will be flown with the BAE-146 jets until April. In conclusion, I will say again as one of the biggest supporters of direct flights into Aspen that we need to really appreciate what we do have and not take it for granted. I challenge anyone to find a community with a population of less than 10,000 anywhere in the world that has the kind of commercial air service that we have. And if you don’t like riding on turboprops, make sure you choose a jet for your flight to and from Aspen. If you can’t find them, ask your travel agent.Bill Tomcich is president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local travel and reservations agency.