Visitors look forward to new Chicago flights |

Visitors look forward to new Chicago flights

Tamara Miller

EAGLE COUNTY – Bobbi Freshcorn only makes it out here once a year, despite having a son and daughter-in-law in Avon and a grandchild on the way.The Chicago resident has to fly to Denver and drive up to Eagle County for her visits. The trip is far from convenient, she said.”I definitely would come more often if I could fly direct,” Freshcorn said. Freshcorn is in luck, however. The Eagle County Regional Airport will be adding a direct American Airlines flight from Chicago this summer, hoping to capitalize on a tourist market searching for an easy way to get here.”I also know a few people who like to come out there for vacations, and would also love the fact that they could fly direct,” Freshcorn said. Too much, too soon?The Chicago area is Eagle County’s third largest tourism market in the summer, said Frank Johnson, executive director of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau. Local merchants urged the County Board of Commissioners in December to add a direct flight from Chicago to the airport’s 2005 summer service. The group also pledged $335,000 toward profit guarantees. The county underwrites profit guarantees to lure flights here. The merchants also wanted to add another Denver flight to the summer schedule. United Airlines already flies one direct Denver flight into the airport during the summer. During the December meeting, Commissioner Tom Stone worried that adding new service would take away business from existing flights. The newest version of the direct summer flight program – call Fly Summer Vail – began nearly three years ago with an American Airlines direct flight from Dallas. The airport added another direct flight – a United Airlines flight from Denver – last summer. While passenger service and revenue rose last summer, the United flight began siphoning passengers off the American flight because some travelers chose to connect through Denver instead, Stone said. Adding more flights could do the same, he said. However, Commissioner Arn Menconi supported adding direct service from Chicago during the summer. The city could serve as a regional connection for surrounding areas like Detroit and Lansing, Mich., Menconi said during the December meeting.County officials eventually gave both flights the green light after being convinced that the financial risk of adding the new flights would be minimal, said Jack Ingstad, county administrator.Sharing the costThe risk to the county is lowered because the merchant group is promising to share the bill if the airlines don’t profit. The county is putting aside $200,000 to guarantee the summer flights, which will be combined with the $335,000 pledges from the merchants group.Under their agreement, if the flights aren’t completely profitable Eagle County will pay up to $150,000 to the airlines. If the loss exceeds that, the merchant group will have to fork over their obligated amount. Only if that isn’t enough will Eagle County have to pay the remaining $50,000, Ingstad said. Eagle County also has committed $45,000 toward marketing the summer flights. Freshcorn, at least, believes the Chicago flight will be successful. “People want to get where they are going faster these days, and I truly believe if it were advertised, more people would come,” she said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or, Colorado

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