Airline reservations up

More passengers have booked flights this winter

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Skiers and snowboarders in warm-weather cities such as San Diego, Las Vegas and New Orleans are part of the reason behind a positive trend in early flight bookings for the Steamboat Air Program.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. marketing executive Andy Wirth said Monday that advance reservations are ahead of last year at this time by 5,100 one-way passengers. San Diego, Las Vegas and New Orleans are playing a major role in driving passengers onto Steamboat's new daily service from Salt Lake City, Utah, on Delta Airlines, Wirth said.

When the first jet from Salt Lake touches down at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Dec. 22, it will mark the first time Delta has served this market.

"The Delta flight is performing exactly as planned, as a means of making it more convenient for Southern California skiers and riders to get to Steamboat," Wirth said.

During the fall, load factors on the winter daily Boeing 737 from Salt Lake were growing by weekly increments of 1 percent to 2 percent, Wirth said. However, during the past month, that booking pace has grown to 4 percent to 6 percent.

An increase of 5,000 passengers as of Monday is good news for the resort economy, but in terms of the airline program's performance, it's critical to look at the increase as a percentage of total seats, Wirth said.

Steamboat has increased inbound seats by 4.5 percent this winter. But even when they are factored in, reservations are outperforming last year, Wirth said. The number of passengers booked is up 5 percent year over year, as of Dec. 1.

"It's about our snow, but it's also about the improved consumer confidence index," he said.

Salt Lake isn't Delta's only flight into YVRA this winter. The airline will operate a 183-passenger Boeing 757 once a week from its hub in Atlanta. That Saturday flight is already 70 percent full for the ski season. Wirth said that level of demand would warrant adding a second flight if there were room to park the aircraft on the YVRA apron during a daily time slot of peak demand. The Atlanta flight departs at 10 a.m. Eastern time, which allows passengers time to connect from cities beyond Atlanta. The plane is scheduled to arrive at YVRA at 11:40 a.m.

The Salt Lake flight departs Utah daily at 11:20 a.m. and arrives at 12:25 p.m. Los Angeles International Airport is an obvious strong point of origin for skiers and riders headed to Steamboat on Delta, Wirth said, but San Diego, Orange County, Calif., and Las Vegas are all emerging as important travel cities for the Delta flight.

Wirth's belief in the future of the Salt Lake flight isn't predicated on travelers from the West Coast alone -- he consistently has said the flight needs a percentage of passengers flying from cities east of Colorado. New Orleans residents intent on escaping Mardi Gras are an example of travelers to Steamboat who fit that description.

Flights on American Airlines from Chicago and Dallas are showing signs of improvement, Wirth said. He credits colleague Janet Fisher with finding a more convenient schedule out of Dallas. Last year, the Dallas-to-Steamboat connection left skiers from Florida, for example, with either an impossibly tight connection, or a delay of several hours in the airport.

Advance bookings on Northwest's daily flight from Minneapolis on an Airbus A319 were disappointing until the airline agreed to decrease fares and increase the number of lower fares on each flight. Consumers quickly responded to the adjustment, Wirth said.


What will it cost?
Daily roundtrips between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Delta Airlines have opened up new ways for people to travel to and from Steamboat Springs in the winter.
Sample fare quotes from the Steamboat Ski Area's Web page and Delta's Web page vary significantly, even for travel on the same day.
A sample low fare is a $154 roundtrip from Hayden to Phoenix and back, traveling Jan. 14-20. Delta quoted $386 for one roundtrip flight from Las Vegas when the return date was planned for Jan. 19. That happens to be Martin Luther King Day, a period of high demand. Yet, as of Wednesday, there were still a few seats priced at $186.50 on a flight that left Salt Lake to return to Las Vegas several hours earlier on the same day.
Jeff Daniels, airline manager for Steamboat Central Reservations, said the availability of budget fares is a moving target, and changes as discounted seats for specific flights begin to sell out. With one daily flight between YVRA and Salt Lake, demand on connecting flights beyond Salt Lake will often influence total fares to and from YVRA.
"It can change from one minute to the next," Daniels said.
Central Reservations director Paula Sears said United Airlines, in many cases, is offering connecting flights into YVRA via Denver that match or beat Delta's lowest fares through Salt Lake.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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