Numbers strong for first jet flights |

Numbers strong for first jet flights

— When Continental Flight 318 from Houston touched down at Yampa Valley Regional Airport at 4:15 p.m. Thursday it was late, but at least it was nearly full.

“I came to break another leg,” quipped Jon Marie Johnson.

She and Nick Russmann of Dallas said they planned their trip two months ago following the Sept. 11 attacks and were not worried about insufficient airport security. They chose Steamboat because of its friendly atmosphere, Johnson said.

The start of ski season jet service at the airport near Hayden was delayed several hours by bad weather on the ground in Houston. But flight 318 was the first of a half dozen flights this weekend that will carry high load factors, according to officials at the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.

Flight 318 was a 737-800 capable of carrying 155 passengers it arrived with 142, a load factor of 92 percent. After today, when the same flight was expected to carry a load factor of just under 80 percent, most of the weekend flights from Houston, Dallas and Chicago, are full, according to Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for the Steamboat Ski Area.

“We’re very pleased,” Wirth said. “We still have a great deal of market share to make up. But the current pacing of reservations is encouraging. We’re experiencing very solid growth.”

Total airline reservations are increasing at a rate of between 4 and 6 percent each week, Wirth said.

“We would be pleased with growth of 2 to 3 percent at this time of year,” he added.

Wirth takes the pace of reservations as a sign that destination skiers are regaining their confidence in traveling.

Carol Ault of Ohio said she and her family always plan a December ski trip and they didn’t let the world situation change their plans. Ault said they hadn’t been to Steamboat for seven years.

“We’ve been here three times and have loved it every time,” she said.

Another passenger, Rachel Fayard, said she and her companions were unconcerned about traveling by plane. However, she was taken aback momentarily when she spotted an armed soldier at the airport in Houston. Fayard was among 35 students from the University of South Alabama who came to Steamboat for a one-week senior trip. Their vacation was booked well in advance through their school.

The current airline booking report at the ski area anticipates that all three flights from Houston this weekend, two on Saturday and one on Sunday, will be sold out, Wirth said. Saturday’s initial flight from Dallas on a 176-passenger American Airlines 757 is also sold out, Wirth said, and Sunday’s flight from Dallas is oversold.

American will also operate the season’s first flight from Chicago, and the early booking report indicates the 737 will be 85 percent full followed by a sold out jet on Sunday.

Houston perennially vies with Dallas as Steamboat’s top point of origin for incoming skiers, Wirth said. Total ski season bookings from Houston are currently almost 2,500 passengers ahead of where they stood at this time last year, Wirth said.

“This is proof positive that when you increase capacity, you can move more passengers,” he said. The 737-800 being operated by Continental out of Houston this year carries 21 more passengers than the 737-700 the airline flew into Hayden last year. The shift in equipment will bring in 5,000 more seats this ski season.

Wirth said he sees further signs that Steamboat is faring well in the struggle with other ski areas for market share.

“Senior executives at Continental and Northwest Airlines are telling us that our flights from Houston and Minneapolis are outperforming flights into Eagle County Airport (near Vail) both in terms of load factors and forward looking yields,” Wirth said.

Load factors describe how many of an aircraft’s seats are full, but the airline can’t determine its bottom line until it determines yield, which takes into account how much passengers paid for their seats.

The ski season air service into YVRA is scheduled to see more than 140,000 roundtrip seats by April 7. That figure includes commuter flights on United Express from Denver International Airport.

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