United filing should not affect YVRA flights

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— Resort officials here have received assurances that United Express flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport this winter will be unaffected by United Airlines' chapter 11 filing.

But there is some concern about next summer and beyond.

"This probably doesn't bode well for (Air Wisconsin flying as United Express) over the long term," said Andy Wirth of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. "But they've informed us that the Steamboat segments remain profitable routes. We're planning for no disruption for (the winter of) 2002-2003. As far as summer goes, this is a good time to take note of our reliance on one carrier."

Phone calls to Doug Horn, Air Wisconsin's vice president for route planning in Denver, were referred to corporate spokeswoman Christine Mangi in Milwaukee, Wis.

"Passengers should not expect any change in terms of the quality of service or flight schedules," Mangi said. "We're maintaining the status quo."

Wirth oversees the resort's direct jet flights from major cities during ski season. The only direct service to Steamboat on the mainline United is a daily 737 from Denver International Airport. More critical to Steamboat is the eight daily flights from Denver on Air Wisconsin operating as United Express. During ski season, United Express operates small jets exclusively into YVRA, and they account for 30 percent of the resort's winter airlift.

"Our Denver flights can only be successful with good feed," Wirth said.

That means load factors in United Express flights into the Yampa Valley are dependent upon connecting banks of United Airlines flights coming into DIA.

United officials have said one of the changes that could take place as it reorganizes under Chapter 11 is a reduction in the frequency of flights from some cities into hubs like Denver.

Service to some cities could also be eliminated.

Wirth said it's helpful to think of United/United Express service into YVRA in terms of three zones. Zone one is represented by the 40-minute flight from Hayden to Denver. Zone two involves direct flights from the Denver hub to other cities, many of them hubs themselves.

Zone three involves cities beyond hubs like Chicago O'Hare and Dulles in the Washington D.C. area.

An example of a zone 3 city could be Richmond, Va. (this is not meant to imply United is considering reducing or eliminating service from Richmond). Passengers traveling on United to YVRA from Richmond would first fly to Dulles, then to Denver, and then into Hayden.

Wirth said he believes community leaders need to pay close attention to the unfolding story of Air Wisconsin's relationship with United Airlines, with an eye on summer service into YVRA.

The Steamboat Ski Area is reproducing on its own Web page questions and answers provided by United Airlines meant to reassure the traveling public.

They can be found at:

http://www.steamboat.com/winter-int.aspx?CategoryId=436

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