Terminal improvements on track

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Advance airline reservations for the holiday ski season are up this year, despite a decline in available seats.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. marketing Vice President Andy Wirth told his audience at the annual Chamber meeting Oct. 28 that year-to-date airline reservations were up 9.8 percent regardless of a 4 percent decrease in available seats.

The most dramatic changes won't come until winter 2006-07, but Yampa Valley Regional Airport, serving the Steamboat resort, made steady progress during the summer on the second phase of a three-phase terminal expansion.

Parking lot paving and alignment of the road for departing passengers was accomplished this fall. Those projects pave the way for the big payoff next winter when the waiting area for departing passengers will be greatly expanded. Airport concessions also will be moved down from the second floor to make them more attractive to the public. By next ski season, airline passengers will enjoy an additional 23,000 square feet of terminal space.

The increases come despite United Airlines' decision this winter to reduce capacity from Denver International Airport. United still flies a daily Boeing 737 between DIA and YVRA, but the daily roundtrips on smaller planes have been trimmed from nine last winter to six. The flights that left the market were Air Wisconsin's 88-passenger jets. The remaining flights are on 37-passenger turboprops.

United pulled Air Wisconsin's small jet fleet out of most of the ski-town markets, including Steamboat, Wirth said. Air Wisconsin operated at Yampa Valley airport as United Express. During the 2004-05 ski season, United Express delivered 49,800 seats from Denver to the Yampa Valley, Steamboat Airline Pro--gram Director Janet Fischer said. This ski season, the number is expected to be closer to 40,000, she said.

Steamboat responded to United's move by boosting capacity out of Chicago on American Airlines. Fischer and Wirth persuaded American executives to switch the service from a 142-passenger 737 to a 188-passenger 757.

Ski vacationers originating from the Southeastern United States also were making greater use of Delta's Saturday 757 from Atlanta, which is augmented by Delta's daily 737 service from the Yampa Valley to Delta's Western hub in Salt Lake City. The daily Delta service gives vacationers the option of returning home via Salt Lake City instead of waiting for the following Saturday's nonstop flight to Atlanta.

Steamboat also succeeded this winter in boosting capacity for holiday travelers who are more inclined to travel in the first three days immediately after Christmas and New Year's Day. Both holidays fall on Sundays this year.

American Airlines announced this month it would add four additional roundtrips from Dallas on Boeing 757's Dec. 26 and 27 and again Jan. 2 and 3.

"We were basically sold out Dec. 26 and 27, and we know we can drive tremendous demand," with the additional flights, Wirth said.

The new flight additions bring to 17 the number of special holiday flights arranged to account for the holiday calendar. In aggregate, they represent 2,880 seats above the typical weekly flight schedule.

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