Frustrations mount over YVRA flights


— Local travel agents are scrambling to accommodate clients who had purchased tickets to fly Great Lakes Aviation between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden July 31 through Aug. 9.

Great Lakes has told the airport manager that it will suspend flights during those 10 days because construction on the airport taxiway will effectively shorten the runway. Travel agents have confirmed the flights have been pulled from their computers during those dates.

"The whole thing is just a mess," Nancy Barnes of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Steamboat Springs said.

The airport will not close during the 10 days when Great Lakes is suspending service. However, work on the taxiways intrudes into the runway safety zone, and will effectively reduce its length by about half. Great Lakes has already had to reduce the number of passengers and amount of payload it can carry out of YVRA because of weight restrictions on its 30-passenger Brasilia turboprops. Company officials have told airport manager Jim Parker the shorter runway length makes it economically infeasible to cooperate during the 10-day period.

Travel agents and airport officials said it's difficult to gauge how many passengers will be affected by Great Lakes' suspension of service in early August. However, airport records show that during the entire month of August 2000, YVRA logged 3,400 enplanements. Enplanements represent departing passengers only. If it were safe to assume an equal number of passengers arrived at the airport, the total number of passengers coming and going might have been more than 6,500 last August. Take 10 of those days in August 2000 and perhaps 1,600 passengers might have gone through the airport.

However, airport officials said, a number of variables could mean August 2001 and August 2000 would not have compared directly. For one thing, Air Wisconsin, in addition to Great Lakes, served the airport last summer. And demand for airline flights due to tourism could be different this summer.

The portion of the airport construction project that will most directly affect operations had tentatively been scheduled for the last 10 days in July, but was rescheduled in late June to help accommodate employees of TIC in Steamboat, who had booked a significant number of seats to attend the contracting company's annual meeting.

Barnes said now that the construction dates have been changed, her headaches have doubled. She's trying to reschedule reservations for clients who decided to change their plans when they originally learned Great Lakes might suspend service in late July. Some of those passengers, mostly business travelers, are trying to get back on a commuter flight to Denver in order to catch a flight to their ultimate destination, Barnes said. But most of her leisure travelers, perhaps as many as 80 percent, are opting not to re-book or not to book a Hayden/Denver flight at all.

Julie Rabbit of Steamboat Reservations and Travel said she's disappointed that Great Lakes isn't compensating her clients for the need to change their plans for a first, or even a second time. Many of those travelers thought their reservations were set months in advance. Now that they have had them canceled and need to re-book once again, they're encountering higher prices for flights out of Denver International.

"They're not compensating anybody at all," Rabbit said. "They're offering a refund of the Hayden/Denver leg of their trips, or for the entire trip. We've had to cancel reservations and start all over."

The problem, Rabbit said, is that refunds for a flight booked months in advance won't cover the cost of fares now, even without the extra leg of the trip to Hayden.

People who made reservations in April for an early August flight to Denver and then on to New York might have paid $238, Barnes said, and now face a fare closer to $470. She was careful to say those fares were estimates.

Great Lakes Senior Vice President for Marketing Dick Fontaine could not be reached to comment.

Barnes also has another group of clients who will be affected by the new set of dates when Great Lakes will suspend service.

"For business clients, it's really a pain, because it adds another six hours to their schedule," Barnes said.

One option is for travelers to book a ground shuttle to and from DIA with Alpine Taxi. The company announced earlier in the summer that it would add a round trip to its summer schedule now it has boosted the total number of round trips by two more departures, to five shuttles a day during the 10 days, July 31 to Aug. 9. The first departure of the day is at 6 a.m. and arrives at DIA by 10 a.m. The last departure from Steamboat is at 3 p.m. and the latest departure from DIA is 9 p.m., arriving in Steamboat at 1 a.m. The cost of the round-trip ground shuttle is $120.

Barnes and Rabbit believe Great Lakes should have offered the ground shuttle as a form of compensation to their clients.

Rabbit said her staff is devoted to ironing out their clients' flight problems, but the burden is falling on travel agents, not on the airline.

"People aren't blaming us," Rabbit said.

"But there are a lot of disgruntled people."


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