Jet Blue airlines lands at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, marking beginning of winter flights
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jet Blue airlines landed at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Saturday morning under blue skies to launch the winter air service program for the 2018-19 ski season.
The flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was the first flight of the winter tourism season in Steamboat Springs, and it was the first time a Jet Blue airplane has had its wheels down on the airport runway.
The landing of the A-320 plane that can hold up to 150 people launched the start to a busy season at YVRA and the tourist season at Steamboat Resort.
More than 500 people were expected to arrive on flights Saturday, which now has a total of five airlines that offer nonstop flights to those wanting to visit Steamboat.
“The access for our guests is a huge benefit,” Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort CEO Kara Stoller said during a ceremony to welcome the inaugural flight.
In addition to the Fort Lauderdale flight, Jet Blue on Saturday brought in passengers from Boston, Massachusetts, and Long Beach, California.
Jet Blue officials who came to the airport to celebrate the company’s new routes were enthusiastic.
“Steamboat is a town that has been long dear to my heart,” said David Jehn, Jet Blue’s vice president for operation planning and analysis.
Jet Blue has a staff of 22,000 people, a fleet of more than 250 airplanes, and they fly to more than 100 destinations.
Jehn said the company has had a focus on and success with offering service to vacation destination markets like Steamboat.
To help celebrate the first Jet Blue flight, Steamboat Olympian Nelson Carmichael on Friday traveled from Steamboat to Fort Lauderdale to take the four-hour flight.
“Swam in the waves for a second and then came back,” Carmichael said.
Passengers on the first flight included Toni Schemmel, who lives in Sarasota, Florida. She was traveling with her son and his college friends.
“We’re very excited about the direct flight,” Schemmel said. “It was awesome.”
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who lives across U.S. Highway 40 from the airport, was on the tarmac to greet passengers from the new Florida destination offering direct flights.
“The more markets we can have come in and experience the communities of Routt County and Steamboat is great for sure,” Monger said.
Steamboat Resort contributes $1.1 million to the air program, which provides subsidies in the form of revenue guarantees to airlines to help bring visitors to Steamboat. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman was also on the tarmac to welcome passengers.
The future of the air program is in limbo after Steamboat residents decided during the November election not to renew a sales tax that would have contributed $1.3 million to the airline program.
Because of the drop in future funding beyond this winter season, the committee that oversees the airline subsidy program has already announced they will stop providing funding for a direct flight next summer servicing Houston.
Perlman on Saturday would not say whether Steamboat Resort would spend more to help fund the airline program.
“We’re focused on this season,” Perlman said.
The Steamboat Springs City Council voted, 4-3, to ban disposable plastic bags at Steamboat’s largest grocery stores.