Todd Kratz of Houston has been to Durango dozens of times, but none of his trips were quite as “pleasant” as Saturday’s flight, he said.
Kratz was one of 54 passengers who flew in a 104-foot long Embraer 175 on the first-ever direct flight from Houston to Durango, a seasonal route operated by United from June 8 through Oct. 26. He was surprised when he booked a direct flight for vacation, he said.
Kratz said he first visited Durango in 1980, when he flew into Albuquerque, rented a car and drove more than 200 miles north to Durango.
On more recent trips, Kratz said he’s flown from Houston to Denver to Durango. Better, but he said he still had to rush across Denver International Airport to make his connecting flight to Southwest Colorado. The direct flight is “much more pleasant,” he said.
The first-ever direct flight from Chicago also landed in Durango on Saturday, another seasonal route operated by both United and American Airlines, and direct-seasonal flights to and from Los Angeles started again for what will now be four years of flights, said Tony Vicari, director of aviation at Durango-La Plata County Airport.
Houston, Chicago and L.A. flights will fly to and from Durango-La Plata Airport each Saturday as commercial airline companies track whether they can fill enough seats on those flights to make it worthwhile, Vicari said. Vicari said he hopes airlines will one day expand direct flights from Houston, Chicago and L.A. to year-round – maybe every day.
But American Airlines, as of the end of last year’s seasonal flight season, has no plans to expand direct service between Durango and L.A.
It’s not up to Durango-La Plata County Airport to decide which planes fly into Durango or how they get there – Vicari said that’s up to commercial airline companies. All airline officials can do to entice new routes try to prove to commercial airline companies that there’s a market for direct flights from major hubs to Durango, he said.
“We have to not only show that it’s profitable but that there’s a high enough demand to get airlines to dedicate aircraft and crews,” Vicari said. “It’s about resources.”
Durango-La Plata County Airport facilitated 378,000 trips to and from Durango in 2018, Vicari said, and this year’s numbers are up about 1½%.
The increase may be thanks to people like Pete Patel and his Houston-based family. The Patels came to Durango for vacation for the first time Saturday – “the price was pretty good from Houston,” Patel said.
It was a bit confusing, however, when fire engines on either side of the arriving aircraft blasted water in a 30-foot high arch over the fuselage as a welcome, Patel said. And the red carpet was a nice touch, he said.