Friday, December 4, 2009

Airline bookings raise hopes

SkyWest, Horizon both report solid sales to and from Friedman

Express Staff Writer

SkyWest supervisor David Tackett, right, hands Peter Viteznik his plane ticket at Friedman Memorial Airport on Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

Winter flight reservations for the two airlines flying into Friedman Memorial Airport—Horizon Air and SkyWest Airlines—have caught up with last year's bookings for this time of year.

And Horizon, which will fly 70-passenger planes into the valley twice every day from Dec. 19 to March 27, is actually tracking ahead for December and January, according to Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. One flight comes from Los Angeles and the other from Seattle.

"It's almost sold out for December," Waller said.

The airline has capacity for 1,820 passengers during that period.

Waller said the chamber receives flight reservation counts from the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, a consortium of business interests that seeks to promote air service to and from Blaine County, but she declined to give the specific number of reservations.

Waller said she only has statistics from last year for comparison and admitted that breaking last year's mark isn't an outstanding achievement, since it was an abnormally low winter for reservations.

"But we're all tired of bad news," she said.

And this is a little good news, especially with about 42 percent of seats coming into the airport seasonally on the wings of Horizon Air. (SkyWest operates flights throughout the year.)

Len Harlig couldn't agree more. He's a liaison between the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority and the chamber.

"I'm sure last year isn't a good place to compare from," he said. "Things were pretty dismal. I think we're looking for any positives at this point, and this is definitely a positive."

While Horizon Air flies in from Los Angeles and Seattle, SkyWest only flies to and from Salt Lake City. But SkyWest is a connection for Delta, which flies into Salt Lake City from all over the country.

Theresa Mills, station manager for Friedman's SkyWest office, said the Utah-based airline's reservations are in step with last year's. Unlike Horizon, she said, SkyWest didn't see a drop in customers flying into the Wood River Valley last winter season.

She also declined to give exact numbers, but said business is "pretty busy, actually. Steady. No lulls."

SkyWest flies in five times a day from now until Dec. 17. After that, flights pick up to eight a day. SkyWest's planes carry about 25 passengers per flight.

Sun Valley Resort spokesman Jack Sibbach said more fliers bodes well for Sun Valley and other hotels.

"The bookings for the air directly correspond to hotel bookings," he said. "They're bringing our clients in, obviously."

He said most Sun Valley guests don't drive here.

However, Sibbach said, the resort's hotel bookings are still down from last year.

"But we're doing better than a week ago," he said.

And, he said, calls have picked up since the Idaho Mountain Express last reported on Sun Valley's hotel bookings at the beginning of November.

"The phone didn't ring much in August and September," he said a month ago, adding that October's booking pace was similar to the same month last year.

At that time, Sibbach said hotel bookings were off last year's by 15 percent. A month later, that gap has closed, but not entirely.

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