Houston air cancelled, RTA braces for summer flight reductions

United will operate three weekly Denver flights in May

By Kendra Walker

While Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) summer air service schedules may still be up in the air moving toward an uncertain COVID-19 tourism season, the United Airlines’ Houston service has officially been cancelled and removed from the schedule.

Based on the advanced booking reports, the vast majority of the 436 passengers who were booked on the Houston trip have been successfully transferred to the Denver flight instead, RTA airline consultant Bill Tomcich told the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board of directors on May 1.

Following the mid-March wave of COVID-19 hitting the county, there were a lot of operational cancellations, Tomcich said. “There was a two-week period out of Gunnison where there were no commercial flights… The daily flight has had a very light load, averaging one passenger over the past couple of weeks.”

Regional aircraft have also been reallocated and reassigned to serve other various hubs, and American Airlines is in the process of a fleet overhaul, Tomcich explained regarding the change in aircraft coming through GUC.

United is currently operating three flights per week (Monday, Thursday, Friday) from Denver through the month of May, a result from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but neither United or American Airlines have filed schedules beyond June 4.

“Looking at a flight-by-flight basis, they’re really weak bookings in terms of a handful of passengers,” said Tomcich. “But United is obligated to operate that schedule no matter how few passengers are on them,”due to the CARES Atc.

Even though the current June schedule shows going back to two daily flights, that is expected to change with flight reductions from June 4 to June 27, Tomcich explained to the RTA board. “June schedules are probably going to look a lot like the schedules in May,” he said. “I brace for very limited service… but we’re hopeful that the market will be such to sustain two daily flights from Denver through August… I think there’s a very strong possibility now that Houston has been cancelled we could retain the twice-daily schedule.”

Tomcich also said that June service is the big unknown right now, but the airlines are slated go back to a reasonable summer schedule at the end of June.

“Obviously, one of the factors that’s playing into this is what our public health orders are,” said RTA chairperson and Mt. Crested Butte mayor Janet Farmer. “I think until our public health orders ease, we’re going to continue seeing low numbers.”

“The first step of our gradual reopening is occurring right now,” said Gunnison County commissioner John Messner, speaking to the Eighth Amended Public Health Order. “Second homeowners are allowed to come into the county and utilize their properties with a seven-day quarantine… Assuming we are successful, I see us continuing to move forward and having a next step here in the next couple of weeks.”

Looking further on the horizon, airlines are not ready to talk about next winter, said RTA executive director Scott Truex, but the topic will be on the June 5 meeting agenda. “We have been talking with Crested Butte Mountain Resort as well and really everything is up in the air… but we should have more news by the end of this month,” he said.

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