Letter: Blackmailed by the airlines
December 30, 2015
In writing about the problems of holiday travel to Aspen, Aspen Times writer Rick Carroll concludes with a quote from a frustrated traveler suggesting that it's easier and cheaper to fly to Salt Lake City to ski than to fight the Aspen air-travel issues ("Aspen holiday travelers wait, wait and wait," Dec. 29).
Of course he's right, but then he wouldn't be in Aspen, would he? There are a few things that can make his experience better, and people like John Kinney are working on them. But one that is not helpful in that story is the quote that the Federal Aviation Administration gave last year and again this year regarding the eyewitness comments about whether private aircraft have priority over commercial aircraft at the Aspen airport. The FAA spokesman says, "Private aircraft did not receive priority handling." They probably didn't, but that misses the point. The point is commercial aircraft don't have priority. And they should.
I flew out on Delta on Sunday from Minneapolis. Our plane was sitting at its assigned gate on time, but it was delayed in boarding a full hour while Delta tried repeatedly to get seven people to give up their seats because of overbooking. There were few takers. And so we sat. Of course. With hotel reservations, ski tickets and dinner reservations, you can't overbook these flights.
After boarding, we were barraged with the same offer to give up seats again and again by the stewards and the gate agents. An so we sat on the tarmac — and people hoping to return on that flight sat cooling their heels in Aspen. Finally, the head steward said, "We are not leaving until five of you give up your seats."
That caused a shouting match from the passengers who somehow felt they had at least as much right to their confirmed seats as those waiting to board. The alternative offered by Delta was to fly to Montrose 24 hours later or to Denver and bus to Aspen 24 hours later. No alternative offer to fly to Aspen was made.
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We left nearly an hour late, and then we circled Aspen for 40 minutes before landing. Anyone who can recognize Ruedi knows when you've passed over it six times that you are circling. Was that because commercial flights did not have priority over general aviation? Probably. Fortunately, when we did finally land, the attendants asked us all to keep our seats so those with tight connections could get off first.
This kind of incompetence and greed on Delta's part is fixable. The time lost circling should be fixable by clarifying the priority of commercial flights. I hope we can do that before flying to Salt Lake sounds any more attractive.
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