By the time Great Lakes exited the market, flight cancellations had grown increasingly frequent. Boutique has proved far more reliable. That benefits the airport because travelers are more confident booking flights through Cortez.
The previous high degree of uncertainty pushed a lot of them to fly out of other airports or, if Denver was their final destination, to drive.
Now the cost of Boutique tickets is pushing them in the same directions.
The airline entered the market with introductory $59 one-way Denver fares. A check of prices seven days out now shows the price of a nonrefundable fare to Denver at $129, and a return the same day for $194. Refundable tickets were $249 each way. Boutique’s CEO Shawn Simpson says the airline “probably” won’t charge more than $300 for one-way tickets.
Tickets out of Durango were equally expensive, if not more so, when the Denver flight is not the first leg of a longer trip. That suggests that Boutique’s prices are not out of line, and it’s fair to admit that Hurricane Harvey has driven up fuel prices.
But Boutique also receives federal Essential Air Service subsidy funding, on top of ticket revenue, to serve the local airport.
That funding has two purposes: It attracts airlines to small rural airports they could not otherwise profitably serve, and it makes air travel through those airports more affordable for passengers. Without those subsidies – which seem fairly secure for now but frequently are targeted in federal budgeting – commercial flights likely would not be available.
Montezuma County residents have long been aware that above some as-yet-undefined price, the local airport cannot attract enough travelers to maintain commercial service. While Boutique has the right to be profitable, its EAS subsidy also carries significant responsibility to the community.
Hiking prices to determine how elastic demand really is can be a good business strategy, but locals are right to be concerned when traffic drops, because they have a lot to lose.