United frustration persists

Airline notes ‘great progress,’ but others unconvinced

United Express says it’s making progress on flight timeliness, but not all local frequent fliers are convinced. From left, Ed Venable of Merritt Island, Fla., Andy McAuley of Durango and Bill Clopine of Farmington arrive on a United Express flight from Denver recently at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald file photo

United Express says it’s making progress on flight timeliness, but not all local frequent fliers are convinced. From left, Ed Venable of Merritt Island, Fla., Andy McAuley of Durango and Bill Clopine of Farmington arrive on a United Express flight from Denver recently at the Durango-La Plata County Airport.

A flight delay in September forced Gregor Gardner to wait more than three hours for his flight home to Durango from Denver International Airport.

Gardner, a business consultant and frequent traveler, said he is becoming “absolutely fed up” with United Airlines’ unreliable service between Durango and Denver.

“It is becoming a serious issue for people who rely on dependable air travel,” Gardner said.

Within the last month, Gardner said he has experienced an average delay of 35 to 40 minutes on afternoon and evening flights from Denver to Durango.

Acknowledging deficiencies in service, Alicia Gabriel, senior manager for United Express, has apologized and pledged to do a better job for its Durango passengers.

“There has been great progress,” Gabriel said in an email. “September performance was record-breaking for Republic (its regional carrier). This would indicate our tactics are, in fact, working, so we will stay the course as I discussed while in Durango.”

Officials at Durango-La Plata County Airport, however, have expressed frustration that Gabriel has not followed up with a progress report since her jargon-filled presentation to the local airport commission Sept. 19.

Instead, the United executive based in Chicago sent along national statistics on Republic’s service as well as a graphic on reasons for the delays.

Gabriel’s report did not cite any flight cancellations. Kip Turner, director of aviation for Durango and La Plata County, knew of three flight cancellations last month.

“I think we continue to have delays, but not to the extent we’ve had before,” Turner said at an airport commission meeting Thursday.

According to Gabriel’s chart, 10.4 percent of all scheduled flights from Denver to Durango had flight delays of 30 minutes or more between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 of this year.

Additionally, about 38 percent of the flights had delays of 30 minutes or less.

So, about half of the flights from Denver to Durango had some delays.

Technical difficulties and airport operations were the biggest causes of delays, while weather only accounted for about 4 percent of the delays from Denver.

Performance was better for passengers flying from Durango to Denver, with about 18 percent of flights having delays of 30 minutes or less and 5.6 percent of flights having delays of 30 minutes or more.

United is Durango’s biggest carrier, serving about half of all passenger traffic with an average of six flights a day to Denver.

On peak travel days, United will offer as many as eight flights a day to Denver, Turner said.

Such frequency of service has helped United build a sizable customer base, especially among those who want to leave Durango early in the morning and return later the same day.

But Turner also noted that United is getting more competition in Durango from American and U.S. Airways.

“What I want to point out is that we’re starting to see other carriers step up to the plate and show an interest in those same passengers (who travel frequently),” Turner said. “I think you will see (United will) have to compete a little harder as the other carriers step up.”

Flights to Durango offered by American Eagle, an offshoot of American Airlines, were 94 percent full in September, Turner said.

“That tells everybody they’re filling up every plane they bring,” he said.

In comparison, Republic, a regional carrier of United, was about 80 percent full in September, according to airport data.

While overall airport traffic dipped in September, Turner said passenger traffic is still up 7 percent for the year. Through Sept. 30, the airport had served 147,706 passengers.

Durango is one of a few Colorado airports, along with Cortez, to show growth in passenger traffic.

The coming holiday season should also boost traffic counts.

To accommodate the holiday rush, the airport plans to add about 60 parking-lot spaces before Thanksgiving and a total of 260 parking spaces before Christmas.

“It should alleviate the problems that were occurring in the prior holiday season. So, we’re excited about that,” Turner said.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

Durango-La Plata County Airport has seen a 7 percent increase in passenger traffic this year. Passengers check in their baggage before boarding a United Express flight to Denver recently. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald file photo

Durango-La Plata County Airport has seen a 7 percent increase in passenger traffic this year. Passengers check in their baggage before boarding a United Express flight to Denver recently.

Troy Eichthaler helps unload a United Express flight from Denver recently at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald file photo

Troy Eichthaler helps unload a United Express flight from Denver recently at the Durango-La Plata County Airport.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story