By the numbers
Sample round-trip fares from YVRA
- United Airlines to Denver, booked a month ahead for a Sunday to Sunday trip: $396 on united.com
- Delta Air Lines to Salt Lake City, booked more than a month ahead for a Sunday to Sunday trip: $260 on delta.com
Steamboat Springs Planeloads of airline executives are sporting frowns these days, which means passengers will probably wind up grim-faced, too.
Although flight reductions probably won't directly affect Yampa Valley Regional Airport, Manager Dave Ruppel said, other measures airlines are taking to offset high fuel costs will.
Crude oil was trading near $120 a barrel on the U.S. commodities market all last week. To cope with massive profit losses, many airlines plan to increase fares. Carriers including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines are adding a $25 charge for passengers checking a second bag.
The airlines have the sympathy of Andy Wirth, executive vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer at Intrawest. His company is the parent of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., which negotiates contracts with airlines at YVRA.
The rapid increase in oil prices is striking, Wirth said.
"I remember sitting this time last year in the offices of these folks, and they were all very relieved that it dropped down from $75 to the 60s," he said. "To contemplate it being $120 is dramatic."
The leap has limited airlines' options, he said.
"It's important for everybody in Steamboat Springs to know that there's some very sharp individuals at that business in these levels," Wirth said. "They're at a place where the status of the national economy does not allow them to raise airfares to the level that would cover those fuel costs."
United runs the only flights at YVRA now: three express routes to Denver International Airport daily. Delta starts service to Salt Lake City on June 6. Northwest, Continental Airlines and American Airlines operate out of YVRA during ski season.
Continental also will add the $25 charge for a second checked bag.
The overall situation is dire, Wirth said.
"It's been made very clear to us by all airline executives that the airline industry is in as challenging a period as it's ever been," he said, noting as an exception the dismal weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Plans and pledges
United intends to cut flights after the summer travel season, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski Janikowski said in an e-mail. She said details of the reductions would be available in four to six weeks.
"I can't predict what other changes may come, but I can say that as the current economic environment changes, we will continue to adapt our business where necessary," Urbanski Janikowski wrote.
Delta plans to merge with Northwest, although a combined first-quarter loss of more than $10 billion might throw a wrench into that, the Rocky Mountain News reported last week. Ruppel said the deal, if it goes through, shouldn't hurt YVRA.
Delta spokesman Anthony Black confirmed that.
"I would say, first of all, that there will be no changes based on the announcement of a merger between Delta and Northwest, specifically with Hayden," Black said. "And I don't believe when we talked about pulldowns in March : that we announced anything specific for Steamboat Springs."
Passengers got a taste of unrelated trouble this month, when American canceled thousands of flights because of inspection issues for its MD-80 planes. That didn't affect YVRA because those planes don't fly here, Wirth said.
But it could be a different story next time.
"Can things like that happen? Absolutely," he said. "We have faced down and built contingency plans for strikes, worker slowdowns, chapter 11 bankruptcies. : We have a true, tried and tested team."
The flip side
As usual in the business world, one industry's bust could be another's boom.
General, or noncommercial, aviation might be able to take advantage of higher commercial fares and fees. It could be cheaper, for example, for several travelers to share the fuel costs for a private plane, said Allen Kenitzer, a regional spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
"That's a whole market that is opening up," Ruppel said. "There's a number of companies that cater to that, companies like NetJets. : You buy into a service, and they provide that transportation whenever you need to go."
Through NetJets, people and businesses can buy a fraction of a jet and have the plane ready to shoot them to their destination with as little as four hours' notice, the company Web site states.
Ruppel also said a light jet is on its way to the market that could be used for an air taxi service. From what he's seen, the costs involved with that service are reasonable. Private flights have other advantages, too, Ruppel said.
No lines or security. The plan holds a handful of fliers, not hundreds.
"It is quicker and less frustrating in some ways than flying on a commercial flight," he said. "Another advantage of smaller planes is that they can go directly into smaller airports. Instead of flying to DIA, you can fly maybe to Fort Collins-Loveland directly."
No fun for a resort town
Wirth said Ski Corp.'s negotiating team nearly is finished setting up next season's flights. A lodging tax in Steamboat Springs supports commercial air travel at YVRA, which helps stabilize routes.
"What we won't be doing is cutting back flights," Wirth said. "We won't be making Steamboat less accessible."
But the economy also is faltering, further straining potential travelers. The highest-income group probably will keep coming, Wirth said. The upper-middle-class visitors, however, could be tightening up.
He said Ski Corp. carefully will monitor travel trends.
"Of great concern is that we're facing really in a negative way a perfect storm of sorts, where we have the cost of transportation going up so significantly, whether it's the rubber tire market or the flight market," Wirth said.
"With a recession type of economy, this is probably the most challenging time we've seen in a long time, if not in Steamboat's modern history."