Steamboat Springs Local travel agents say commercial air service at Yampa Valley Regional Airport this summer has been significantly more reliable than last summer. However, the number of passengers flying in June might have been limited by the late departure time of the first plane headed for Denver each morning.
Currently, the first flight of the day on Air Wisconsin departs at 7:20 a.m. During June, the first flight didn't go out until 9:30 a.m.
"That killed a lot of connections to the East Coast," Shirlee Finney of Great Escape Travel said. She explained travelers leaving Hayden on time at 9:30 cannot count on catching a connecting flight at DIA any earlier than 11:30 a.m. By the time they arrive in New York or Washington, D.C., it may be too late to attend a business meeting.
YVRA's Doris Mayhan reported that 1,879 passengers boarded Air Wisconsin flights at the airport in June. That compares to 1,986 boarding Great lakes Aviation flights in June 2001. Air Wisconsin did not serve YVRA last summer.
Changes in service at Routt County's only commercial airport make year over year comparisons difficult.
Air Wisconsin has three daily flights this summer. Great Lakes scheduled five to six daily flights last summer, but operated all of them only a minority of the time.
Two summers ago, both commuter airlines flew in and out of the airport as United Express and 2,124 passengers boarded the flights.
Load factors in June this year show the departing aircraft were 57 percent full and the arriving planes were 63 percent full.
Finney said the limited schedule of flights this summer is also affecting business travelers. With just three flights, travelers are confronted with longer waits for connecting flights at DIA, Finney explained. As those waits get longer, travelers are apt to consider driving to DIA themselves or booking an airport shuttle on Alpine Taxi.
Nancy Egbert of Steamboat Reservations and Travel said reliability of service this summer has been a "lot, lot better," this summer, although she believes many of the factors that hampered Great Lakes last summer were beyond the airline's control.
"It's been absolutely more reliable this summer," Egbert said. "Our record with Air Wisconsin has been fantastic, but that's with only three flights."
Despite the improved reliability, Egbert said a higher percentage of her clients than ever before are opting to drive to Denver to catch a flight or catch a ride on Alpine Taxi. She's even seeing clients drive to Silverthorne to pick up ground transportation after shopping for an hour at the factory outlet malls.
Ulrich Salzgeber of Alpine Taxi said his DIA shuttle business in June was up 18 percent over June 2001. And even though the growth of ground transportation to DIA benefits his business, his taxis also meet the flights at YVRA. Salzgeber was full of praise for Air Wisconsin's reliability.
"I'm really impressed with them," Salzgeber said. "They're doing it right. They're always on time. As often as not, they're early."
Egbert attributes a portion of the trend toward ground transportation to the cost of flying to Denver on Air Wisconsin.
Extracting the cost of flying out of Hayden, when connecting to a United flight to a second city is almost impossible, Egbert said. One of her colleagues said she helped a client with a roundtrip to Cleveland this summer and it was cheaper to fly from Hayden than it was to drive to Denver to catch the same connecting flight.
The most identifiable problem arises for people who need to make close-in arrangements to travel, particularly business travelers, Egbert said.
Almost no one actually pays the fares that kick in when travelers don't purchase their tickets 14 days in advance they take ground transportation to Denver instead, she said.
"Our biggest complaint is that the one-way fare is $337," Egbert said. "A roundtrip (Hayden-Denver-Hayden) is $174 each way. That's today. It changes all the time. When you add in taxes that's close to a $200 ticket."
Steamboat Reservations and Travel owner Julie Rabbit said she'd like to see the airline offer business travelers a 20-ticket coupon book that would allow them to claim seats a couple of days in advance for a fixed low price.
Once you get within 14 days, any empty seats are sure to remain empty at those prices. The airline might as well fill them and capture some revenue, as let them fly empty, Rabbit reasoned.