Heavy snowstorm delays Aspen flights over holiday weekend
The euphoria of powder skiing since Aspen was bombarded with a major snowstorm on Friday competes with the frustrations of vacation travel.
As the snow continues to fall – Aspen Highlands reported 30 inches of white matter in 72 hours until 7.17 a.m. Monday, according to Aspen Skiing Co. – delays, diversions and cancellations of commercial flights have plagued travelers for peak holiday season.
Sunday, for example, included more than 50 cancellations of commercial flights and a dozen delays for scheduled inbound and outbound flights at the Aspen-Pitkin County airport, according to FlightAware.
“Our runways and taxiways, we kept them clear,” said airport manager Dan Bartholomew. “It’s snow in the air and it’s visibility, and winds are a problem too.”
Six of the 37 scheduled arrivals made it to Aspen on Sunday, according to calculations by Bill Tomcich, air travel consultant for Fly Aspen Snowmass, which is an alliance between Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, Aspen Chamber Resort Association and snow mass tourism.
Six other flights to Aspen were hijacked, including two United flights rerouted from Chicago to Grand Junction; a United flight from Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska; a US flight from Austin, Texas, to Grand Junction; a US flight from Dallas to Grand Junction; and a Delta flight from Atlanta to Grand Junction. The remaining 25 incoming flights have been canceled.
Leaving Aspen was equally difficult, with 31 commercial cancellations and five flights that were able to take off but with delays of at least an hour, according to Tomcich.
“(Sunday) was a mess and the winds were the culprit,” Tomcich said, noting that he had recorded gusts of up to 51 miles per hour in the Fryingpan River valley – which lies directly below the flight path to Aspen – Sunday.
As of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, commercial flights accounted for 43 cancellations (although some were hijacked), according to FlightAware. There was one arrival, at 1:00 p.m. from Denver via United, and one departure, a 3:35 p.m. flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, according to the airport’s website.
Nationally, the omicron variant of COVID-19 has impacted crews, pilots and airline personnel, and more than 1,000 flights were canceled in the United States on Monday largely due to the virus, but also due to inclement weather, according to published reports.
The flight disruption prompted Dr Anthony Fauci, in an MSNBC interview Monday, to request mandatory vaccinations for flying within the country.
“If you impose vaccination on people who board planes entering the country, that’s understandable. You don’t want to bring more cases into the country, ”said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “But if you’re talking about requiring vaccination to get on a plane across the country, that’s just another requirement that I think it’s reasonable to consider. “
Locally, the variant does not take into account theft problems.
“It has all been linked to the weather,” Bartholomew said. “The other problem that comes into play is that many crews expire and can only fly a certain number of hours because they have been delayed.”
Federal Aviation Administration regulations updated in 2014 restrict flight crews to working a nine to fourteen hour day; it was 4 p.m. according to the previous rules. In addition, the actual number of hours flown varies from eight to nine hours, and pilots are required to allow themselves a minimum break of 10 hours between shifts.
The weather was not favorable to local ground travel either.
According to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, partial or full road closures on the Shale Bluffs section of Hwy 82 (36 mile marker), Smith Hill Way, Brush Creek Road, Watson Divide Road have taken place since Friday. due to traffic accidents.
An Aspen Star Limo driver said Monday he had been to Denver International Airport three times in the past three days due to flight cancellations in Aspen.
“Aspen Airport has seen more delays and cancellations than it was on time,” said the driver, who declined to provide his full name. “It costs a lot of money and it’s a long time to wait for planes that don’t come.”