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Flight woes at Gunnison airport

United Airlines underperforming compared to other airlines

By Alissa Johnson

The weather and other factors have led to several flight cancellations for planes flying into the Gunnison Crested Butte Regional Airport in December and January. While a difficult blow to winter travelers, none of the cancellations have been made due to inadequacies at the airport. Rather, one airline in particular has had trouble landing planes.

At the most recent meeting of the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation authority, executive director Scott Truex said no Chicago or Los Angeles flights had been affected, but four American Airlines flights and 11 United Airlines flights were impacted between December 23 and January 6. Weather was a major culprit for many of the flights.

“There was snow from December 20 to 27 and it was pretty much continuous storm events. No flight was ever denied a runway. [Airport manager Rick Lamport] and the crews worked through Christmas and Christmas Day, 13 to 15 hours a day sometimes,” Truex said.

Airline consultant Kent Myers confirmed the December weather challenges. “At one point in time, it shut down Houston, Dallas and Chicago. It was just ugly everywhere,” he said.

A January 3 United flight to Houston had mechanical problems, but three Houston and eight Denver United Airlines flights were impacted, and not all of the changes make sense to local airline officials.

Myers pointed out that American Airlines has landed when United has not, and United has also diverted to Montrose.

“There’s an issue here… about United,” he said. “I will just lay it out from the standpoint that I am disappointed in United… The quality of the communications and the timeliness of communication are lacking and they should be, in my opinion, a better partner.”

Myers went on to explain that no proper explanation had been provided for a flight diversion to Montrose.

“To say they diverted it because of some barometric pressure, none of us—even pilots—have ever heard of that. We still haven’t had a real answer on that. What really happened? I’m disappointed. We’ve got an airport staff and a group of people with Rick [Lamport] that are A1. That’s not the issue at all,” Myers continued.

Truex confirmed that the airport has not been the problem.

“Other than when there’s a weather event in Gunnison that prohibits them from landing because of rules, there have been no issues at our airport,” Truex said.

“It’s tough to deny when United doesn’t fly in and American gets here twice,” Myers added.

The troubles are not limited to the local airport. The airline has been making headlines for a “bungled” merger with Continental, having three CEOs in a single year, and a corruption scandal.

According to Bloomberg Business, the airline had widespread delays in 2012 due to problems with its reservation system; the problem happened again in 2014. On July 8, 2015 the airline suspended all of its flights for two hours due to a reservation glitch, and the carrier recently agreed to pay $2.8 million in fines for its treatment of disabled passengers and tarmac delays.

“On all major performance metrics—delays, cancellations, mishandled bags, and bumped passengers—United has, since 2012, been reliably the worst or near the worst among its competitors,” the Bloomberg Business article stated.

Locally, Myers emphasized that he and the RTA would continue to work through the challenges, given that United is one of the airport’s primary partners. United representatives were invited to call into the RTA meeting but declined the opportunity.

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