Vail Valley air service suffers spring losses, but may be returning
Airlines aren't scheduling more than 30 days out, but locals are optimistic service will be available this summer and winter
The travel industry, in general, is in flux right now, but efforts continue to build passenger numbers at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
In an email, Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid noted that attempts are “more difficult” in recruiting flights from new markets. But, he added, “we are optimistic that we are heading in a positive direction.”
That optimism is based, in part, on commercial traffic levels before the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March shut down much of the U.S. economy.
“Every flight we had was tracking ahead (of 2019),” before the shutdown hit, EGE Air Alliance board chairman Mike Brumbaugh said. “Everything was looking good — load factors, pricing.”
The air alliance is a nonprofit consortium of local businesses and governments, and it works to build service into and out of the airport.
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According to Reid, another complication is the fact that airlines are publishing schedules only 30 days in advance. That makes it “difficult to project what (the airport’s) fall and winter service will look like,” Reid wrote.
But it’s still possible to book a flight for the fall or winter.
Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer noted that publishing schedules 30 days in advance is an “industry-wide” phenomenon.
Romer added that many regular guests have taken flights from their home markets for some time and are confident they’ll be able to book flights into Eagle County when they want to come.
The uncertainty in the travel industry has complicated marketing, to an extent, and local air service boosters are still looking for new service into the airport.
“We’ve continued those discussions (with airlines),” Romer said. While negotiating with airlines has slowed, “we haven’t gone dark in those efforts,” he added.
Laurie Mullen is the vice chairwoman of the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council. That group’s focus is on marketing the resort primarily in the summer and fall.
Mullen said that group has had to do quite a bit of adjustment in its tactics this year, particularly in inviting guests to drive in from a roughly 500-mile radius.
Mullen said she’s seen a number of out-of-state license plates around the valley lately. That said, the council is still working to attract people from fly-in destinations.
And, she noted, there are reasons from optimism.
A daily American Airlines flight from Dallas to Eagle County has recently been upgraded from a regional jet to a full-sized plane that can carry roughly 130 people.
And, Brumbaugh said, Eagle County’s airport has a number of advantages.
Security wait times are typically short and parking is inexpensive, Brumbaugh noted. And for the next couple of years, people flying into Eagle County won’t have to deal with a massive construction project on Interstate 70 through central Denver.
In terms of safety, Brumbaugh noted that airline employees have a lower infection rate than the general population. More important, though, is what awaits guests when they arrive.
“You’re outside, you’re socially distant,” Brumbaugh said. In the winter, “you’re wearing gloves and some sort of face covering. … If you’ve got to pick a spot to be, why not come here?”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.