The skies overhead dotted with jets and the booming noise from aircraft are the heralds of the President’s Day weekend in Eagle and Gypsum.
This week is one of the year’s busiest out at the Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE). Many East coast school kids have the week off. Families planning ski vacations at Vail and Beaver Creek book their trips over the three-day weekend when traditionally snow conditions are at their peak.
During the winter months, the Eagle County Airport is the second-busiest in the state, following Denver International Airport (DIA). Some days the facility boasts the second busiest runway in Colorado and that’s a particularly telling statistic considering there is more than one runway at DIA.
“There have been times where we’ve had 40 airplanes lined up in the air to land, along with 174 jets parked over night,” said Greg Phillips, Eagle County aviation director.
EGE is serviced by three major airlines — American, Delta and United — offering non-stop flights to and from 10 major markets including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark and New York/Kennedy. The majority of winter service begins Dec. 19 and continues through March 31, 2014.
A luxury for locals?
While people from throughout the U.S. fly into EGE, for local residents, taking off from the local runway may seem like an expensive luxury. Airfares are typically quite a bit more pricey than flights out of Denver heading to the same destinations.
“Even if it’s up to $150 more, I will still fly out of Eagle over Denver,” said a frequent, savvy local traveller who asked not to be named. “The cost of parking and gas to Denver, plus just the stress of a big airport makes the extra cost worth flying out closer to home.”
But the President’s Day holiday presented some pleasant pricing surprises for local flyers. Some round-trip flights out of EGE featured the same price as those out of Denver. For example, round-trip airfare on American Airlines to Wichita Falls, Texas this week was $285, the same exact price on the same days from DIA. Although it’s hit and miss, deals have been found over the years on the airlines that fly out of EGE.
It takes some searching, and maybe some luck, but the deals are out there. However, a typical search last week — a mid-June, round-trip flight to New York City revealed the following:
Denver to NYC — $290
Eagle to NYC — $404
Grand Junction to NYC — $640
Montrose to NYC — $522
The Eagle County Airport’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eagle-County-Regional-Airport/138860449482831) currently boasts round trip airfare sales (taxes and fees included) that include Los Angeles from $244, San Francisco from $283 and Boston from $343.
“We sell convenience,” said Phillips.
He has a point. EGE offers free, close parking along with quick check-in and short security lines. Along with convenience, the time that the traveller gains is priceless, even if the airfare is quite a bit more.
It costs money to fly people around the globe. Fuel costs keep going up and airlines go out of business and merge all the time. Many know the old story from 1987 – the year when American Airlines saved $40,000 by eliminating one olive from each salad served in first class. Airlines are always searching for ways to save money with minimal effects to customers. EGE is not immune from the larger forces affecting aviation nationwide.
With talk about more domestic airlines and international flights swirling around the community, one thing is certain. It all takes money and public support. EGE is testing a winter flight this season to and from Canada. The destination airport in Canada provides a US Customs pre-clearance facility, making it financially feasible for EGE to run that flight once a week.
The EGE Air Alliance is a huge part of generating support for airport operations. The EGE Air Alliance is a public-private partnership with participants including local municipalities and private business stakeholders. The Vail Valley Partnership provides oversight and management of the Air Alliance, but is managed as a separate nonprofit entity with a separate board of governors. Each year Air Alliance board members make the rounds of local government boards seeking finanial support to continue and expand commerical air service to EGE.
Nearly every mountain resort airport relies on minimum revenue guarantees in order to maintain or grow air service. In recent years, a trend seen across the region is a loss in available seats on commercial flights. When flights turn out to be successful, the guarantees are phased out.
The local airport has huge impacts for the local economy – directly and indirectly. The EGE Air Alliance claims the airport alone is responsible for thousands of jobs.
What does it personally mean for locals? A lot. It not only provides year-round full-time work for many Eagle and Gypsum residents, it also employs many seasonal and part-time workers. Eagle Valley High School senior Kylie O’Neill said she is thankful for the airport. “To me it means a good, steady job,” she said. O’Neill works at the gift and coffee shop inside the terminal. “I’m saving the money I make there for college and car expenses.”
Nationwide the transportation industry employs 4.4 million — all engaged in the seemingly simple act of moving people from here to there. Air travel is obviously the quickest way to accomplish the task, especially when large distances are involved. At times, it’s a seamless, even pleasant, experience. More often, especially in recent years, it has been anything but that.
But the ease and simplicity of flying out of a smaller airport such as EGE brings back some of the positive feelings about flying.
“The main thing it means is convenience and ease of travel,” said Jody Ejnes, a local resident and a patron of EGE.
“Flying has become such a huge hassle, but leaving out of EGE makes it a pleasure again.”