Passenger numbers increasing so far this year at Yampa Valley Regional Airport despite pandemic
About 3,400 passengers traveled through Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Saturday, which Director Kevin Booth would consider a “big day” for the airport in any season, let alone one marred by a pandemic.
Though still down compared with last year’s numbers, traffic at the airport has been increasing, with January outperforming December and February shaping up to outperform January. A large driver of that added traffic has been the recent snow that has steadily fallen in Steamboat Springs.
“We’re not going to probably outperform last year when things were normal,” Booth said. “But we’re certainly outperforming airports nationwide as far as the number of passengers that are traveling here.”
When preparing the airport’s budget for 2021, Booth didn’t take a scientific approach, instead he planned for planes to be at least half-full for the ski season. In December 2020, they weren’t meeting that mark, which concerned Booth. But as the numbers have since been increasing, he anticipates they will be close to the budgeted mark.
“I don’t know if that is a trend that will continue in March or not, we’ll see,” Booth said. “Certainly the snow hasn’t hurt.”
While the number of passengers going through the airport is rivaling previous years’ peak days, the planes are not coming in full.
Booth said the addition of Southwest Airlines to the airport’s rotation last year has allowed travelers more flexibility and increased the number of planes coming in on a given day. Passengers, for instance, are now able to see a favorable snow report and decide to take a last minute flight into the valley.
“Skiers are pretty tapped into what is happening and where the good snow is,” Booth said. “Every year, we see that: traffic picks up when the snow gets better. I would say that holds true this year as well.”
Chris O’Halloran, co-owner and vice president of local airport shuttle service Storm Mountain Express, said she had to lease an additional 25-seat shuttle for February because of the increase in passengers.
“We knew that the loads over Presidents Day weekend were going to be extremely heavy,” O’Halloran said.
Reservations have to be arranged before a flight lands and how full a shuttle will be depends on the amount of people looking for a ride, she said. If a larger group is traveling together and staying, they will put more people on a shuttle at once.
O’Halloran said a lot of people she talks to say they have never been to Steamboat. She thinks the recent snow has been a big help as most of those reservations are being made last minute.
“I think (it’s) because people are getting great rates on Southwest,” O’Halloran said. “With good snow, they can get some good rates into here and just jump on it and make a last minute booking.”
In the long-run, she said, it is shaping up to be a busy season for the shuttle service. That’s following a cautiously optimistic start to the season.
Sam Gelpi, a sales liaison for local shuttle service Go Alpine, said there is occasionally a complaint from a passenger that the shuttle is crowded, but without capacity limits for airlines or lodging, they kind of have to mirror what those industries are doing.
But the overcrowding only really happens on peak travel days like Saturday, Gelpi said, which was the service’s busiest day of the season so far.
“We were seeing a couple of shuttles that had to be filled up because people are either going to miss their flight or they are going to be waiting for hours for a ride into town,” Gelpi said. “We try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible to get people to where they need to go.”
The company cleans shuttles between each ride and has prohibited eating and drinking on the shuttle so people wouldn’t be taking off their masks during the ride, Gelpi said.
Booth said this Saturday is shaping up to be just as busy as the prior week — maybe even more so considering that additional people are going out of the airport.
While he does not yet have booking data for March, Booth said the outlook for the rest of the season, which ends after the first week of April, looks to be pretty good.
“We’re just past the halfway point of our flight season, and we’re happy with the way things are running, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the season,” Booth said.
It’s not a surprise that people feel comfortable traveling through the Hayden airport, Booth said, noting all the COVID-19 precautions that have been taken. Masks are required throughout the terminal, and the airport recently became accredited by the Global Bio-risk Advisory Council for its cleaning procedures.
“We are one of only 21 North American airports that have achieved this accreditation, and there are 30 other airports that are trying to achieve it now, but little old Yampa Valley Regional Airport was one of the first 21 to reach that,” Booth said.
Cleaning plans that airport staff were following at the beginning of the season have largely held up, Booth said. They are going “above and beyond” the norm for disinfecting the terminal throughout the day, as well as spraying the entire terminal with electrostatic sprayers each evening.
The Transportation Security Administration now requires passengers to wear a mask while they go through security, which had already been required at the airport due to county and state mandates. But Booth said the change at the federal level was helpful because it gives TSA agents in Hayden more enforcement ability of the rule, allowing them to deny screening a passenger who refuses to wear a mask.
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