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Worth Getting To?

Below is an excerpt from a travel story written by Amy Virshup in the Sunday, January 13 edition of the New York Times.
In her article, the author provides some tips for getting a good deal on a family holiday.
She writes:
"Rule No. 1: Don’t pay for chic you’re not going to use, which means we don’t even look at places like Aspen, with their gilded prices. The sashimi may be incomparable at Matsuhisa, but let’s face it, my child really doesn’t care.
"Rule No. 2: Fly as little as possible. The more planes you take, and the smaller the final airport, the more you’re likely to pay. That took mountains like Steamboat and Crested Butte with their diminutive local airports and less-frequent nonstop service off our list."
Ouch.
I know I don’t like to pay big-time prices for getting into our local airport, but apparently, word’s getting around that flights into Gunnison can cause sticker shock.
Ms. Virshup goes on to explain that ski resorts with big base area developments are cheaper for families because rooms are plentiful. She writes that she found plenty of ski areas that fit with all of her criteria. Her family eventually went to Copper Mountain and spent less than $3,000 on the five-night trip. Crested Butte didn’t even make the cut to be weighed as an option.
Two main issues seemed to play into Ms. Virshup’s decision not to research Crested Butte—one, our flight schedule and two, the cost of the plane tickets.
Last winter, the regional airport received five United Express propeller planes into Gunnison each day from Denver, along with a weekend jet from the Mile High City. We also had the same daily flight from Dallas on American Airlines.  But with last winter’s flights 61 percent full on average, the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) was forced to make hefty payments to the airlines to offset their losses and the airlines cut our flight schedule.
This winter, the RTA managed to negotiate for three planes into the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport daily—two jets going to and from Denver and the third traveling between Gunnison and Dallas.
So how are we doing in the quest to improve demand and get our flight schedule back up to par? The answer appears to be okay.
As of January 2, 2008, the airlines had sold 20,459 seats into our regional airport for the 2007-2008 ski season, down slightly from 23,021 seats sold as of January 10 the previous year. The good news is that with fewer seats available, our load factor (otherwise known as the percentage of filled seats versus empty ones) is 48 percent for the season, up from 44 percent this time last year. And here’s a highlight: The United Airlines jet from Denver ran at 81 percent of capacity during December, up significantly from 2006.
Are these increases in load factors enough to entice more flights into the airport next season? No one can predict where we’ll end up with the President’s Day weekend and spring break still ahead of us. But in October 2007, RTA director Scott Truex told the Crested Butte News that the goal was to have 70 percent load factors to expand the service. The only thing that will guarantee more flights is significant increases in the number of seats sold.
On to Ms. Virshup’s second point: flights into these small airports are expensive.
A couple of months back, John Norton made the point that the airlines had essentially told us that we need to improve demand for air service—and they would not help in those efforts by reducing prices. Norton also wrote that the price tags for flights here are not out of line with other Colorado mountain destinations. He found flights into Gunnison for $612/$440 for weeklong and weekend trips—with similar price tags to Steamboat and Telluride. In a similar study this week, I came up with comparable results.
How do we change the perception that our flights are expensive and not worth the bother? This is the million-dollar question and I don’t have the answer. But I hope that someone comes up with one soon.
It doesn’t matter so much that one New York Times reporter took us off her list—the worry is how many other families will follow suit and take their dollars to seemingly more convenient locations.
-Aleesha Towns

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