Eagle County airport ready for the winter | VailDaily.com

Eagle County airport ready for the winter

Passenger numbers running above 2019 levels

The Eagle County Regional Airport’s winter flight program includes service from 13 airports on United, American and Delta airlines.
Eagle County Regional Airport/courtesy photo

After a year of pandemic-driven declines, winter air service seems to be on the upswing for the coming winter.

The full winter air program begins Dec. 16 at the Eagle County Regional Airport. The program continues this season with 13 direct routes into the airport from cities including Phoenix, Miami, New York, Dallas and Denver.

Eagle County Aviation Manager David Reid said he’s optimistic about the season to come.

“Through December, American (Airlines) and United (Airlines) are seeing load factors of about 80%,” Reid said. Those two airlines account for most of the passenger traffic at the airport. Delta Airlines also flies into Eagle County.

Reid noted that routes into Eagle County in 2020 remained consistent with 2019. Those routes remain into this year.

Support Local Journalism

The better news is that 2021 passenger numbers so far — “enplanements” in industry-speak — are running at roughly 6.5% above enplanements in 2019.

While the flight schedule is similar to the past two seasons, Reid said there are some challenges in the industry right now.

Industry challenges

“The biggest challenge is airlines are seeing a lack of flexibility,” Reid said. Airlines were seeing pilot shortages before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s continued. In addition, storms and delays at one airline hub can reverberate through the entire system.

“Schedules continue to be tweaked,” Reid said, urging travelers to stay in touch with their airlines or checking frequently at the FlyVail.com website.

One of those tweaks is the seasonal American Airlines flight to Phoenix. That flight will run from December into the first week of January, then stop until March. The route will then run to the ski season’s end in April.

Those challenges aren’t unique to Eagle County.

In Routt County, the Yampa Valley Regional Airport is also readying its winter schedule. That airport sees significantly fewer enplanements than Eagle County, but offers service from six airlines: United, Southwest American, Delta — back this year after a 2020 hiatus — JetBlue and Alaska.

Masks still required

Airport Director Kevin Booth noted that 2020 enplanement numbers at the airport west of Steamboat Springs were at their lowest in at least a decade. Like Reid, Booth said he’s enthusiastic about the season to come, with 16 direct flights from 15 cities.

That enthusiasm comes even as federal officials continue mask mandates on aircraft and in passenger terminals. The current mandate, also applies to ground transportation systems that receive federal funding. That means bus passengers will also have to mask up while riding.

At the commercial passenger terminal in Gypsum, Reid said travelers will have new amenities this season. Tailwind, a new concessionaire, will have restaurants open on both the passenger and public sides of the terminal in time for the Christmas holiday season.

In addition to rental car, taxi, shuttle and bus service, Reid said passengers this season will be able to use the Lyft ride-sharing service this season. Negotiations continue with Uber to allow those drivers to also ferry passengers to and from the airport.

This is the first season Lyft drivers can access the airport. That service “adds another option,” Reid said. “We heard our users. It’s something they really wanted to see.”

For those flying in on private aircraft, the Vail Valley Jet Center is working on a large new hangar west of the airport administration building.

General aviation traffic has continued to grow through the pandemic, Reid said. Still, the vast majority of passengers come and go on airliners, and that starts Dec. 16.

“We’re excited,” Reid said. “We’re ready to go.”

By the numbers

Here’s the decline between 2019 and 2020 passenger enplanements at regional airports.

Eagle County: 25%

Pitkin County: 40.3%

Routt County: 17%

Grand Junction: 44.3%

Montrose (which serves Telluride): 36.2%

Source: Federal Aviation Administration.

Support Local Journalism