After a year of decline due to a pandemic, winter air service appears to be on the rise for the coming winter.
The full winter air program begins December 16 at the Eagle County Regional Airport. The program continues this season with 13 direct connections to the airport from cities including Phoenix, Miami, New York, Dallas and Denver.
Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid said he was optimistic about the season ahead.
âUntil December, American (Airlines) and United (Airlines) have fill rates of around 80%,â said Reid. These two airlines account for the bulk of passenger traffic at the airport. Delta Airlines also serves Eagle County.
Reid noted that the routes to Eagle County in 2020 remained consistent with 2019. Those routes remain this year.
The best news is that the number of passengers in 2021 so far – âboardingsâ in the industry sense – is about 6.5% higher than boardings in 2019.
Although the flight schedule is similar to that of the past two seasons, Reid said there are challenges in the industry right now.
âThe biggest challenge is for airlines to see a lack of flexibility,â Reid said. Airlines were experiencing pilot shortages before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is continued. Additionally, storms and delays at an airline hub can impact the entire system.
âSchedules continue to change,â Reid said, urging travelers to stay in touch with their airlines or check back frequently. FlyVail.com website.
One of those adjustments is American Airlines’ seasonal flight to Phoenix. This flight will run from December to the first week of January and then stop until March. The route will then continue until the end of the ski season in April.
These challenges are not unique to Eagle County.
In Routt County, the Yampa Valley Regional Airport is also preparing its winter schedule. This airport sees significantly fewer boardings than Eagle County, but offers service from six airlines: United, Southwest American, Delta – back this year after a hiatus in 2020 – JetBlue and Alaska.
You still need a mask
Airport manager Kevin Booth noted that the number of boardings in 2020 at the airport west of Steamboat Springs was at its lowest in at least a decade. Like Reid, Booth said he was excited about the coming season, with 16 direct flights from 15 cities.
This enthusiasm comes even as federal officials continue to disguise warrants on planes and at passenger terminals. The current mandate also applies to ground transportation systems that receive federal funding. This means that the passengers of the bus will also have to mask themselves while driving.
At the Gypsum commercial passenger terminal, Reid said travelers will benefit from new amenities this season. Tailwind, a new concessionaire, will be opening restaurants on the passenger side and the public side of the terminal in time for the Christmas holidays.
In addition to car, taxi, shuttle and bus rental services, Reid said passengers this season will be able to use the Lyft carpooling service this season. Negotiations are continuing with Uber to allow these drivers to also carry passengers to and from the airport.
This is the first season Lyft drivers can access the airport. This service “adds another option,” said Reid. âWe have heard from our users. It’s something they really wanted to see.
For those traveling on private planes, the Vail Valley Jet Center is working on a large new hangar west of the airport administration building.
General aviation traffic continued to grow during the pandemic, Reid said. Yet the vast majority of passengers come and go on airliners, and it starts on December 16.
âWe are excited,â said Reid. âWe are ready to go. “