Vail Valley still has full summer flight schedule | VailDaily.com
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Vail Valley still has full summer flight schedule

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” It’s already a tough summer for the nation’s airlines. How much of that pain will come to Eagle County?

Despite the airlines’ continuing cutbacks in service and employee layoffs, the summer flight schedule to the Eagle County Regional Airport hasn’t been affected. Eagle County Regional Airport Manager Ovid Siefers said the current summer flight schedule hasn’t changed.

“With reservations already made, it’s a little late to change now,” Siefers said. Daily service from Chicago on United Airlines starts June 5, and American Airlines’ flights from Dallas start June 12.

People who booked their flights early are probably in pretty good shape, at least regarding fare prices. But summer travelers tend to make their reservations closer to the days they actually travel, and those who buy tickets just a couple of weeks before their vacations will surely pay higher fares.

They’ll also pay more to check their baggage. American this week began charging $15 for every passenger’s first checked bag and $25 for the next. That first bag used to be checked for free. United still has a first-bag-free policy.

“There’s just no way (airlines) can survive without raising fares,” local consultant Kent Myers said.

Over the past couple of decades, Myers has put together deals between airlines and communities to bring in air service, first for Vail Associates, then on his own. The current run-up in oil prices, and the following hikes in jet fuel prices, have created real danger for the industry.

“I just heard a report that at current prices, airlines have to run at a 125 percent load factor to make a profit,” said Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers Lodge in Vail. “That means you’d have to fly with people in the cargo hold.”

LeVine is a member of the local committee that guarantees the airlines will bring in a certain number of passengers. If the summer passenger levels drop below that number, the airlines are paid from an account that local businesses and governments all pay into.

So far, those guarantee funds haven’t been used much, LeVine said. But that could change if the price of air travel goes up too much.

“Summer passengers are more price-sensitive than our winter passengers,” LeVine said.

That means the valley has to market itself as a good value to summer vacationers. But Chris Romer of the Vail Valley Partnership said “value” doesn’t mean “cheap.”

“When you consider that rates at lodges are a fraction of what they are in the winter, that’s a great value,” Romer said.

To help get that message across, LeVine said the Antlers will participate in an advertising program aimed at travelers in Chicago and Dallas to lure them to the Vail Valley.

But even as the price of airfares goes up, the price of the guarantees communities pay will rise, too. Myers said an airline recently told one of his community clients the price of its guarantee will have to go up another 35 percent.

Given the economic impact air travel has on communities ” a Colorado Department of Transportation study indicates the economic benefit at more than $32 billion a year for the entire state ” LeVine said paying more to ensure service is probably still a good bet.

But most people still drive to the Vail Valley. And that’s where Romer said there’s a lot of opportunity.

“I refuse to just throw up my hands and say there’s nothing we can do about it,” Romer said. “I believe it’s going to be a tough summer, but if we communicate the value here, we’ll be able to steal some market share from drivers who might have gone to Aspen, Steamboat and Telluride. We’re still a lot closer to Denver.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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