Eagle County airport flight disruption numbers don’t tell the whole story | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport flight disruption numbers don’t tell the whole story

Many cancellations are from inbound flights, and de-icing a plane takes time

While lodging and other resort revenues remain strong, current trends show softening lodging demand.
Scott Miller/Archive photo

Numbers don’t always tell a whole story. That seems to be the case with a recent list of “worst” winter airports in the U.S.

According to a Jan. 5 story at Forbes.com, the airports in Pitkin and Eagle counties are the nation’s worst for flight disruptions — either cancellations or delays of more than an hour. Pitkin County led the way with 34.8% disruptions for all flights. Eagle County was second, with a 22% disruption rate.

The disrupted five

Here are five worst U.S. airports for winter flight disruptions — cancellations or delays of an hour or more:

  • Pitkin County: 34.8%
  • Eagle County Regional: 22%
  • Hector International (Fargo, North Dakota): 21.3%
  • Jackson Hole International: 17.3%
  • Burlington (Vermont) International: 15.8%

Source: Forbes.com.

The disruptions were particularly acute over the Christmas holiday. Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll noted that during the nationwide storm that disrupted much of the county’s air traffic, about 80 people couldn’t get out of Eagle County for their return trip. Those people ended up spending the night in the commercial air terminal.

“We rounded up blankets for them, and we were doing the best we could,” Shroll said.

The same storm brought some lengthy Vail Pass closures, Shroll added. That left the terminal’s vendors without new food supplies for a while.

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Still, those passengers could have flown out if there was an airplane available and an open airport at their destination.

Weather elsewhere accounts for many delays and cancellations, Shroll said.

When frigid temperatures hit the southern states, a lot of flights were grounded because crews couldn’t apply de-icing compound to the aircraft.

Places including Atlanta and Dallas have little, if any, de-icing equipment, Shroll said. That isn’t a problem here, of course.

At another point during the Christmas holidays, the county airport had more than 300 bags that didn’t make it in from their original destinations.

But the planes on the ground in Gypsum were able to fly if the destinations were open.

But when planes can’t fly, people look for alternatives, including renting cars, Shroll said.

Peter Dann is chairperson of the EGE Air Alliance, a group made up of private and local government representatives. He’s also the chief development and strategy officer for East West Resorts, which manages rental properties in several resort areas.

Dann said the most recent flight disruptions didn’t seem to affect the lodging business. And, he added, a flight delay is a different thing than a flight cancellation.

Outgoing flights frequently have to spend some time at the airport’s de-icing station, Dann noted.

“Mountain weather changes so quickly, and you need to wait. So you just hang out,” Dann said. If the bulk of disrupted flights are just delays, “I’m not surprised,” he added.

One solution to delays or cancellations is more flights, Dann said, adding that’s what the alliance and airport officials are working on. More nonstop flights can be helpful, as well as more United Airlines flights to and from Denver.

“We can help minimize delays with more flights to Denver,” Dann said. “Now we tend to get a little (backed up)… with no flight until tomorrow.”

While the runway rarely closes at the local airport, there will always be conditions to contend with.

“We can’t change the weather, or move that mountain,” Dann said.

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