Airline bankruptcy stirs little concern locally
“United has been very vocal telling people that it will keep flights and people don’t seem too worry about it,” Mueller said. “We didn’t get many calls from clients who were worried. We had more calls before they filed.”United Airlines is the largest carrier at Denver International Airport, where it has a hub. The airline partners with Air Wisconsin for its United Express shuttle service between Eagle County Regional Airport to Denver.Mark Davidson, director of aviation at Eagle County Regional Airport, saidhe doesn’t expect any changes this winter.”In the short term, we don’t see a financial impact. People have planned their winter vacations, including flights, and United continues to fly,” Davidson said. “In the long-term, we’re looking at potential financial impacts. I’m anxious to see how United works through this.”United Airlines made the largest bankruptcy filing in aviation history Monday, saying it was the only way to keep the world’s No. 2 airline flying after two years of heavy losses. The company promised to keep flying in the United States and internationally, however, while it goes through a possible 18-month bankruptcy process.United operates about 1,700 flights a day, or about 20 percent of all U.S. flights. It employs 83,000 people and has the most extensive worldwide route structure of any airline.”United Airlines will continue to provide customers with the same experience and level of service they have come to expect,” said Glenn Tilton, chairman, president and chief executive officer of United Airlines.United official said the company obtained $1.5 billion in financing from several banks to continue operating, with $800 million cash on hand.The Chapter 11 filing was the fifth-largest ever as measured by assets.The suburban Chicago-based company has lost $4 billion in the last twoyears due to a slumping economy, flawed business strategies and theSept. 11 terrorist attacks. It faced debt payments of $875 million laterthis week.Shortly after the announcement Monday, company officials assured customers and travel agencies that it will honor tickets and maintain its refund and exchange policies.”I hope that they’ll continue operations normally, like Continental and US Airways did,” Davidson said.Continental Airlines is perhaps the industry’s greatest success story aftertwo bankruptcy filings in 1983 and 1990, analysts said.America West Airlines has also successfully emerged from Chapter 11more than once since its founding in 1983, and has grown to become theNo. 8 carrier. Braniff, Eastern, Pan Am and Trans World Air have gone of business or merged with other carriers after filing for bankruptcy in the last two decades.”We stand by our commitment to provide customers with convenient schedules, quality onboard services and the most extensive route network in the U.S. and abroad,” said Chris Bowers, United Airlines senior vice president of marketing and sales. “Most importantly, throughout this process, customer safety will continue to be our number one priority,”In Eagle County, passengers won’t see any change in frequency or quality of service, said Christine T. Mangi, spokeswoman for Air Wisconsin.United Express currently operates six flights between Denver and Eagle County. That number will change to nine on Friday.United Airlines, however, isn’t the largest carrier flying into Eagle County, Davidson said. That title goes to American Airlines, which carries half the county’s passengers. In 2001, United Airlines flew in 9,000 passengers, or 2 percent of the airport’s 320,000 passengers. United Express, meanwhile, carried 81,670, or a quarter of the passengers.Other airlines flying in the winter into the county’s airport are Delta, Continental and Northwest.Although economists in Colorado have said they fear United Airlines’ bankruptcy could have ripple effects on the state’s economy from real estate to skiing, Kristin Rust of Colorado Ski Country USA said she doesn’t foresee any changes at this point.”With our excellent early season snow, bookings are looking strong in Colorado for the holidays,” Rust said. “We believe United will continue with its quality service and without interruptions.”Vail Resorts, which has partnerships with United Airlines, as well as with other airlines, doesn’t expect an impact on its service from Denver, said Kelly Ladyga, the company’s spokeswoman.And Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad said the local economy should not suffer.”In the short term, it shouldn’t have any impact on the county or the airport,” Ingstad said.Although Air Wisconsin operates United Express flights, United Airlines pays the county about $500,000 for rent space at the airport, Ingstad added. The 10-year agreement started in 2001.”The future is a big question mark,” Ingstad said. “Some companies like Continental and US Airways have come out of banckrputcy. Some do fine; others have to dissolve. We’re watching.”Kent Myers of Airplanners LLC, who has been hired by Eagle County officials to develop a summer flights program, said he still is in negotiations with the airline for the program.”I don’t see any changes in our negotiations,” he said. “It’s business as usual. There’s no reason for people to panic.”United Airlines officials also said they will continue to provide programs such as Mileage Plus, Red Carpet Clubs and others.”I haven’t had any reactions from customers today,” said Linda Coffin, a travel agent with Overland & Express Travel in Edwards. “People seemed to be concerned before. We’re going to take it day by day.”For more information, visit http://www.united.com.If you would like to see the 2002/2003 airport schedule log on to http://www.eagle-county.com/regional_airport.cfm.The Associated Press contributed to this story.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at email@example.com.