Passenger happy, but sometimes crowded |

Passenger happy, but sometimes crowded

Scott N. Miller
NWS Airport1 SM 2-20

GYPSUM – John Lavelle loves flying in and out of the Eagle County airport.A pilot for American Airlines, Lavelle by definition knows about airports. And, while he said he “loves” coming to Eagle County, he’s looking forward to better days.”It’ll be nice when they extend the runway,” he said. That way, summer flights will be able to leave the airport with a cabin full of passengers. Summer flights can’t do that now, because the valley’s thin air gets even thinner in the heat of summer. Lavelle and a handful of passengers on a recent Monday morning flight to Newark, N.J. all said they like using the airport. “This is like a Rolls Royce,” said Tom Sandell of New York City. “It’s a great airport.”Room to improve

But some people who work at the place day in and day out see room for improvement.”The problem is when we’re at full operation,” said John Christner, a local manager for one of the airlines (he didn’t want to reveal which one).The problems start out front, with people going through the baggage screening and security lines run by the federal Transportation Security Agency, Christner said. The lines, he said, can stretch all the way outside on busy days.Sometimes, those lines can force flight delays. Because a lot of passengers are catching more than one airplane, a delay in Eagle can be the first of several dominoes that fall in a longer than expected ride home. “After 9/11 we had to start screening bags,” Christner said. “The space for those machines evaporates a lot of space for passengers.”The lack of space on busy days is felt both inside and outside the building, said Bill Horan, local manager for World Wide Flight Services, the company that handles baggage and other ground-based work for most of the airlines that use the airport.”I’ve seen people start to line up a half-hour before the restaurant opens just so they can get a bagel,” Horan said.

Both Horan and Christner said the county employees who work at the airport are pleasant to work with and do their best to get problems solved. The major problem, they say, is growth and how fast it’s come. The bar and restaurant at the airport were built when just one airline, American, was using the terminal. Other airlines continued to use space in what’s now the Vail Valley Jet Center, now dedicated entirely to private planes.Since then, the commercial terminal has become bigger, and all commercial flights now use that building. But the bar, restaurant and shops are the same size. Moreover, the only way to get to the restaurant or bar is with a ticket. Those areas are only open to passengers who have already cleared security.”It would be nice to have a restaurant out here,” passenger James DeHaven of Alabama said before clearing security.And, while Lucinda Westerlind of Carbondale said she was tickled to find free parking at the airport, both Christner and Horan said the free parking can be a problem. The biggest issue, both said, is that people leave their cars in the lots for extended periods.”I know of people who have left their cars here, then flown out of Aspen,” Horan said.”Even a dollar or two a day would help,” Christner said.

Time for some changesThat decision is up to the county commissioners, who have the final say about airport policies. In the meantime, airport employees are looking at, but have not yet decided on, plans that could help the weekend crush as soon as next season.Some of the short-term plans county officials are looking at include putting more restaurant and retail space on the front (south) side of the terminal. Long range plans will probably include adding on to the building in some way, said Chris Anderson, one of the managers at the airport.”We’ve grown a lot quicker than we expected,” Anderson said. “We’re elated about that, but we have work to do.”For the moment, though, at least some passengers think the airport is doing pretty well as it is.

“I think it’s very efficient,” said Carol Ruth of New York City. “There’s plenty of help available.”===============By the numbers 215,000: Passengers that used the airport in 200541,000: Takeoffs and landings (most were private aircraft)365: Days at least some commercial passenger service is available

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6: Airlines using the airport, most during ski season14: Cities passengers fly in from====================Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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