Steamboat Springs A high-ranking United Express operations executive met twice this week with Steamboat resort officials and community leaders to talk about her company’s progress in improving the on-time reliability of the four daily flights between Denver and Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Chuck Porter — co-chairman of the board of the Local Marketing District, which oversees the expenditure of tax revenue to secure air service here — said he attended a meeting Tuesday with Senior Manager of United Express Operations Alicia Gabriel.
“They seemed sincere in the meeting that they recognized the issues," Porter said. "They weren’t proud of it, and it sounded to me like they were taking steps to mitigate the problem and get back on track. They’re striving to make improvements.”
United Express is flying regional jets and Q400 turboprops here this winter, with the jet operated by SkyWest Airlines and the Q400s flown by Republic Airlines. Most of the problems with late flights and cancellations appear to be generated by the Republic operations of the Q400, not necessarily tied to the aircraft itself but Republic having to work quickly to assemble enough flight crews.
Porter knows firsthand about the service problems.
“I’m really flying a lot these days,” he said. “For a while, I was getting pretty good flights, getting stuck in Denver once in awhile. Then, I hit a rash of cancellations and baggage issues. In October, November, December and January, almost every flight I was on had an issue.”
Gabriel sat down again with some business leaders at about noon Wednesday in the ballroom of The Steamboat Grand at the conclusion of a series of speeches that kicked off Steamboat’s Airlines Partners Summit. She would not speak for attribution to a reporter.
Porter said that on Tuesday, Gabriel emphasized that United Airlines/United Express had decided that the 70-passenger Q400 was the right aircraft for the mountain towns on the Denver route.
Coincidence or not, all four Denver flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Wednesday were flown with 66-passenger CRJ7 jets. One midday flight arrived about 45 minutes late, and the others were on time.
Airport Manager Dave Ruppel brought up the growing problems with the Q400’s on-time record as long ago as October. At the time, he said things could not continue the way they were going with flights either late or experiencing other problems more often than not.
On Wednesday, Ruppel said the difficulties persisted into ski season when the last flight of the day, scheduled to arrive at 10:19 p.m., sometimes came in at 2, 3 or even 4 a.m. There were times when that happened two to three times each week, putting a significant strain on airport staff.
The last United Express flight of the day stays parked on the apron overnight to become the first flight out to Denver in the morning.
Porter said one of his most trying flights to Steamboat recently involved a multileg return flight from Barcelona, Spain, via Frankfurt, Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., Denver and on to the Yampa Valley.
After working around a general strike in Barcelona, the flights went well until Porter and his wife arrived in Denver to find their flight to YVRA had been canceled.
The result was that Porter had to spend an extra night in Denver and attend the next day’s Local Marketing District board meeting via conference call.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com