In planning for the 2020-21 ski season during the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado Flights Alliance (CFA) recently announced its winter flight schedule, which will look a little different this year. That’s not a surprise or unexpected, as seemingly everything is different during 2020 as two new airline partners in Southwest and JetBlue will provide service to and from Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ).
“Southwest and JetBlue are two of the leading airlines in the country,” CFA CEO Matt Skinner said of the airlines replacing Delta and Allegiant, which includes the withdrawal of Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles routes.
Delta has plans to return in winter 2021-22.
JetBlue will operate from Boston Logan Airport to MTJ on Saturdays and select Wednesdays during the season, starting in mid-December, according to a CFA news release. The airline Tuesday also added five flights from New York (JFK) and Los Angeles on weekends between December and February.
Southwest, which will also begin service in mid-December, will fly two to three times daily from Denver to MTJ, and from Dallas Love Field Saturdays and Sundays through the winter.
Airline schedules will adjust each month, Skinner explained, adding that the increase in leisure travel was a factor in putting together solid winter air options.
“This year has been an incredibly dynamic year with air, to say the least. We started off with shutting down almost all service in March, April and May. We’ve been slowly building back over the summer just as travel begins to pick back up,” he said. “We came into winter. We lost our service with Delta that we’ve been working on for years, and also chose not to continue with Allegiant, so there was a big chunk out of the winter service taken right there.
“What we saw as the summer continued is that in the larger world of airlines business travel is their bread and butter, and leisure is generally secondary. What has been happening is business travel hasn’t been recovering and may not for quite some time, so leisure travel has been coming back quicker, relatively speaking. With that what we saw over the last month is a certain turn in conversations with the airlines as to winter planning. Both our current airline partners and new partners were approaching us with options as the airlines focused on leisure.”
According to the release, “We are targeting consistency and only modest growth in light of the current health and travel environment. Other key considerations for additions include airlines and routes that represent long-term opportunities and contribute to a more sustainable and low-volatility economy. The changes that were selected look beyond this immediate year for durable partnerships and continued stability for the region.”
Other changes this winter include the return of Saturday flights from Charlotte, American’s second largest hub. American will also continue to fly two to three times daily from Dallas-Fort Worth to MTJ, daily from Phoenix, weekly from New York (LGA), and daily during busier weeks from Chicago, according to the release.
United’s routes will see some shifts in schedule, with Denver likely to have one less flight per day, Newark-MTJ reducing from daily to two to five times a week, Houston and Chicago running daily except for potential reduction to weekends only in January, San Francisco maintaining schedule except for fewer weekday flights during January, and Los Angeles running as normal on weekends.
Denver Air will run a similar schedule from Denver to Telluride Airport, including twice a day during the busier weeks of the season, connecting and bookable through United or Denver Air.
Currently, winter bookings are down 40 percent compared to last year, but that gap is expected to close as the Nov. 26 Opening Day approaches. Skinner explained airlines are reporting shorter booking windows, meaning people aren’t planning trips as far ahead as they historically have, so last-minute bookings, as well as a slight increase in car travel, is the outlook.
“Winter bookings are starting to pick up, and the trend is mirroring previous years, but about a month behind,” he said
While airlines sometimes make unilateral changes to schedules, “the monthly adjustments will help regulate capacity, which will be closely managed through the season,” Skinner added.
CFA is looking beyond the winter and keeping “economic sustainability for the future” in mind throughout the process and talks with its airline partners. “What we’re looking at is not just service for this winter, but planning beyond the pandemic and laying the groundwork for our air network for the future,” he said. “ … It’s very fluid. We’re feeling good that we were able to replace our two lost airlines with two national players and think that’s a solid move for the long-term, but we also understand that this schedule is going to change month-to-month.”
Airlines and airports continue to improve safety and health protocols as travelers slowly return to the air. How seat restrictions and spacing are handled vary by airline. Guests are advised to check safety protocols for both the airline on which they will be traveling and the destination they are traveling to, according to the release.