Yampa Valley Regional Airport kicked off its first big weekend of the season Saturday as more than 2,000 passengers filed from booked and overbooked jets into the airport's bustling baggage claim area.
The airport, which will see about 1,300 more passengers arrive today, will remain busy through the holidays, accommodating about 17,000 incoming passengers by Jan. 4, said Ann Copeland, manager of terminal and land site operations.
"It's hard when you first start gearing up ... but so far, it's going really well," she said.
However, the real test begins Wednesday, when big flights will begin departing from the airport, and officials will be challenged to accommodate large numbers of waiting passengers, which have far outgrown the holding area's seating capacity.
Making do may be easier for Copeland and other airport officials now that plans for the second phase of a terminal expansion project -- which will double the holding area's capacity -- are in full swing.
"Right now, it's very difficult and not very customer-service oriented," she said. "We all know that."
The first phase, completed about a year ago, expanded the check-in area so that luggage is scanned indoors. Problems remained in the holding area, which has a capacity of about 580 people, and as many as 1,200 departing passengers may file through the airport between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays, Copeland said.
In addition to a larger holding area that also will have food service, the 23,500-square-foot expansion will include a new ticketing lobby with 119 feet of new counter space. The project also will add another passenger screening aisle to the existing two aisles, which will increase the number of passengers screened per hour by as much as 38 percent, Copeland said.
The improvements will be a welcome sight for visitors such as Nancy Brennan, who is familiar with the airport and said the check-out process could go smoother.
"With increased traffic, there's no reason it couldn't use some updating," Brennan said after arriving Saturday from Newark, N.J.
Another Newark passenger, Lucy Bogdon, said she's been to nicer airports in similar size areas.
"It's a ski resort, you want to make everybody feel warm and welcome," she said.
The second phase of the airport expansion also will improve areas outside the terminal with the addition of bus lanes and bus staging areas.
The Hayden Planning Commission approved the site plan for the expansion earlier this month, allowing the Yampa Valley Airport Commission to apply for a Routt County building permit. The commission hopes to begin construction in the spring.
"It's going to be a tremendous improvement for the passenger experience ... clearly from the departure side," YVRA aviation director Jim Parker said.
On Saturday, several passengers said reaching their baggage in the crowded baggage claim area was difficult.
A third and final planned stage of the airport expansion will address that by expanding the baggage claim area into the current check-in lobby, which will have an additional luggage carousel.
Copeland estimated that the third phase, which will begin when the current improvements are finished, will be complete in 2007.
Despite any of YVRA's shortcomings, some visitors, such as Scott and Renette Jasmer of Houston, accepted the airport's cramped spaces as part of its ambiance, which offers everything they need in a compact area.
"We haven't had a problem," Scott Jasmer said.
The friendliness of airport staff also helped make the airport comfortable for the Jasmers, who regularly vacation in Steamboat.
"We have no complaints at all," Renette Jasmer said. "That's why we keep coming back."
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