Eagle County air service nearly mirrors what we had last season
All but one city that was served last season is back
A nearly-full air service dance card for the 2020-2021 season was a pipe dream in April. That dream has been realized — at least for now.
We’re only a few weeks into this season’s flight schedule into the Eagle County Regional Airport, but Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid said recently he’s “cautiously optimistic” so far.
At the moment, flights now serve 13 of the 14 cities that had flights in the 2019-2020 season. Better yet, there are people on those aircraft. Reid said the first few weeks of the season saw planes coming to the airport flying about 65% occupied, on average. Given that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is less busy than the Christmas holiday period, that’s pretty good, he said.
Reid said airlines in the wake of the pandemic’s first wave earlier this year decided to focus on recreational destinations, believing those routes would recover faster than those used by business travelers.
That tactic is paying off, so far.
Reid said summer flights were bustling, although not as full as the previous summer.
“We were happy with the summer,” EGE Air Alliance Board President Peter Dann said. The alliance is a nonprofit group of business and government interests dedicated to building service into the airport.
Resort service growing
Dann noted that JetBlue and Southwest Airlines are both expanding into leisure markets, which may help Eagle County’s airport in the future.
Those flying into Eagle County will find social distancing and other public health measures in place.
Reid said the floor is marked for maintaining distance, and masks are available to those who don’t have them.
While the terminal can be packed when several flights arrive in a matter of minutes, Dann said people by and large are keeping their distance. Benches have been put outside the terminal, so just one or two members of a traveling party can wait at the baggage carousels. The airport this year has also started a “Say goodbye outside” program, where people are encouraged to stay outside while picking up or dropping off passengers.
Plexiglass shields have also been put up in “high touch” areas including ticket and car rental counters.
In addition, airport employees are monitoring crowd behavior, and will ask people to mask up or back off if crowds get too thick.
Tighter booking windows
All this is good news for EGE Air Alliance board member Mike Brumbaugh, who’s also the owner of Venture Sports.
Brumbaugh said he’s been pleasantly surprised by how many flights are coming into the airport.
“You hear and read how airlines have lost this flight or that flight,” he said. “It made me nervous we were going to lose a lot. Other resorts have lost flights and they’re feeling it.”
But quickly tracking passenger numbers this year is going to be a challenge.
Reid noted that past booking patterns had people buying airline tickets between 30 and 90 days before flying. Like lodging, that window is now much tighter, with people booking flights as little as 10 days in advance.
Brumbaugh said variances in the Vail Resorts reservation system may make booking flights more tricky.
“If you went (online) last week, you couldn’t get a (reservation),” he said. Now, there are spots available.
Then there’s the pandemic. Reid said a lot can change in a short time, adding that airline schedules are now published only through the end of January.
For the moment, though, things are going well, on the ground and in the air.
Dann, the executive vice president of East West Hospitality, said he’s flown a few times during the pandemic, and has been “interested” to see a higher level of hospitality these days.
And, while keeping service level with last season, or nearly so, will be a win this winter, Dann said he believes a successful winter may lead to more success in the future.
“In times like this there are always opportunities,” Dann said. Early in 2021, Dann said the alliance and airport officials will be looking to see where those opportunities might be.
‘Say goodbye outside’
The Eagle County Regional Airport this season is asking people to stay outside the airport terminal building when they greet or bid farewell to passengers.
Only ticketed passengers, people assisting passengers, customers with an airport business and airport employees are allowed in the terminal.
For more information, go to http://www.flyvail.com.