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More Flights Make Getting to Colorado Rocky No More

Vacations: New airlines are popping up and other companies are expanding services to the state's ski areas from Southern California.

November 17, 1996|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Maybe you're thinking about a ski trip to Colorado this winter. Or perhaps you're wondering about mountain biking in the state this spring or sightseeing in summer. Or maybe you don't even want to go to Denver, but you have to. Whatever your reasons, you may have some pleasant surprises ahead.

In the last two years, new airports and heightened airline competition have brought prices down and popularized new paths to the Rockies. Here are some developments that could ease travelers' plans:

* The resurrection of Frontier Airlines. Frontier operated out of Denver for 40 years, then went out of business in 1986. But in July 1994, several top executives from the old Frontier gathered to revive the name and the business, flying 737s from Denver to 13 U.S. cities. In November 1995, Frontier added LAX to its schedule, helping undercut United's dominance of the nonstop Los Angeles-Denver market and forcing prices down.

"The entrance of the low-fare carriers has imposed some pricing discipline on everyone," says Chuck Cannon, spokesman for Denver International Airport.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 24, 1996 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 5 Travel Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Colorado highway--Due to a reporting error, the interstate route that links the cities of Colorado Springs and Denver was incorrectly stated. It is the I-25.

This winter, Frontier is flying twice daily from LAX to Denver, with round-trip fares beginning at $166 (subject to availability; no advance-purchase requirements or mandatory Saturday stay-overs). The airline also boasts that its seats are roomier than United's: 32.5 inches from seat back to seat back, compared with 31 inches in United's coach section. (Aside from nonstops by United and Frontier, America West and Reno Air offer daily one-stop flights between LAX and Denver.)

* The convenience and added ski shuttles of United. Beginning in December, United will offer 19 daily departures from LAX to Denver, at round-trip fares beginning at $166 (21-day advance-purchase and Saturday stay-over required).

But United's biggest news is the expansion of its United Express service to Rocky Mountain ski destinations, which will be phased in throughout December to give skiers more alternatives to shuttle-bus connections.

Boosting its number of weekly available seats by nearly 25%, the airline has scheduled a daily nonstop flight from LAX to Aspen; four each weekday (and five to six each weekend day) from Denver to Eagle County Regional Airport (which serves Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas); six daily from Denver to Durango-La Plata County Airport (which serves Purgatory); six to seven daily from Denver to Yampa Valley Airport (which serves Steamboat Springs); and nine to 10 daily from Denver to Montrose Regional Airport (which serves Telluride). Fares vary widely, depending on travel dates.

As it did last winter, the carrier also will fly Denver-Aspen 11 times each weekday, 15 to 16 times on weekend days. In addition, there will be six daily flights from Denver to Gunnison County Airport (which serves Crested Butte); four daily to Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and one flight daily LAX-Eagle County.

* The Colorado Springs option. Colorado Springs is about 95 miles south of Denver on I-95, which makes it Denver International's equal or superior as a jumping-off point for several ski areas. But before the city's new airport opened in October 1994, Colorado Springs drew nonstop flights from just eight other cities, a modest 4,300 passengers daily. That's all changed now.

The new 15-gate airport at Colorado Springs dispatches nonstop flights to 31 other cities and logs about 13,500 passengers daily, many from Southern California. It will soon grow from 15 gates to 20. (DIA, which opened Feb. 28, 1995, has 94 gates.)

United flies as often as 11 times daily between Colorado Springs and Denver, but the dominant airline in Colorado Springs, with more than 30% of all flights and 22 different destinations, is a low-fare carrier called Western Pacific. Most crucially for Southern Californians, Western Pacific has made Los Angeles a priority.

The carrier started service between Colorado and LAX in April 1995. Despite its absence from travel agents' computerized reservation systems (customers and agents must make bookings by telephone), Western Pacific gained many followers by undercutting the cost of flying via United to Denver. Now, with Frontier vying for Southern California passengers too, Western Pacific has more incentive than ever to keep prices down.

Western Pacific's three daily LAX-Colorado Springs flights (open seating) begin at $138 for round-trip coach seats, with 21-day advance purchase, during off-peak hours. In September the airline added flights from Ontario to Colorado Springs, with restricted round-trip fares beginning at $108.

* New flights from Colorado Springs to ski destinations. Western Pacific's latest advance is its creation of Mountain Air Express (nicknamed MAX), which on Dec. 4 will begin a total of 26 daily flights from Colorado Springs to six Colorado ski areas. (To accommodate all this new service, MAX will fly out of five new gates in a building adjacent to the main Colorado Springs terminal.)

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