Flights to Yampa Valley Airport expected to be on par with last year’s record-breaking season

Last ski season saw more than 200,000 seats on planes coming to Hayden, a 70% increase over pre-pandemic numbers

A Southwest Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in November 2021.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

After the Yampa Valley Regional Airport saw record numbers of passengers passing through the terminal last year, flight numbers are expected to remain high this season as well.

Last year, there were more than 200,000 seats on planes to the airport during the ski season, according to Janet Fischer, director of Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp’s Airline Programs. A few weeks ago, it looked like seats would have a slight decline, roughly 4%, she said.

“It’s a moving target and now I think we’re feeling like we’re going to be close to flat (compared to last year),” Fischer said. “There’s been some additions very, very recently.”

During the 2018-2019 ski season the airport saw nearly 120,000 seats on planes. The following COVID-19 shortened season saw about 108,000 seats on planes, as flights were canceled when ski resorts across the state shut down in March.

Since the addition of Southwest Airlines at the start of the 2020-2021 season the number of seats on planes traveling to Hayden has taken off, with 162,000 that year, and 201,000 last season. The ascent of traffic has led to a busy summer of work at the airport, both to get ready for the upcoming winter season and to expand the airport in the future.

“We’re about two-thirds of the way through our Terminal Area Plan, which is setting the stage for expansion,” said Airport Director Kevin Booth.

Last year, the air program celebrated having six different airlines from 16 different airports servicing Hayden, more than any other mountain airport in Colorado. While some of the flights have moved around from last year, both of those numbers are the same again this year.

While Steamboat Ski Resort is slated to open before Thanksgiving, flights generally pick up in the middle of December. Fights from Chicago, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth start Dec. 15, with service from other destinations starting on Dec. 17.

JetBlue made changes to flights from Boston and Fort Lauderdale, Florida this year, Fischer said. The number of seats is largely the same, but the airline is offering more flights a week for a shorter period of time. JetBlue’s routes will run from Feb. 3 to March 23 on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Southwest Airlines stopped flying a plane toward the Yampa Valley from Dallas Love Field in Texas, and replaced it with a Saturday flight from Nashville. American Airlines dropped a flight that used to fly to Chicago as well, but increased the frequency of planes from Dallas, which arrive up to two times a day.

Another key change is that United Airlines, which flies to Hayden year-round along with Southwest, has scaled up some of its flights to use bigger planes. Instead of an Airbus A319, United will use Boeing 737s, which ups the number of seats per plane from 126 to 166.

The steep increase in passengers in recent years has forced a number of upgrades at the airport as well. One key upgrade was the doubling of de-ice pads, which will help get planes out on snowy days when flights need to leave one after another, Booth said.

“On busy days, when we’re trying to get airplanes turned around, if it’s snowing they have to de-ice before they go, which is a fairly lengthy process,” Booth said, adding that it can take between 20 and 30 minutes. “The more capability you have, the quicker you can turn airplanes.”

Booth said they also upgraded equipment used to de-ice and clear snow off the runway, which will speed up the amount of time it takes to prepare the runway for takeoff and landings.

Inside the terminal, Booth said the airport got new boilers, brought in a better system to display flight information and improved staffing levels, allowing passengers more food options. Last year, the airport often didn’t offer seated dining options because it lacked staff.

Earlier this year, Routt County boosted its minimum wage to $20 an hour, a move that was a boon for employees across the county, but was done in part to improve hiring at the airport.

“I think it helped, both in recruiting and retention,” Booth said

The Transportation Safety Administration has added all new scanners through security as well, Booth said. The new scanners are more accurate and mean passengers won’t need to remove laptops from bags anymore. New bag systems hope to increase the capacity to process large and oversized bags such as skis and snowboards.

Booth said the ongoing Terminal Area Plan development hopes to wrap up by June. While he can’t say for sure what changes that will facilitate, it would likely add gates to the airport.

“That will set the stage for design of expanding the existing terminal,” Booth said.

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