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With planes parked by the pandemic, Southwest Airlines starts seasonal flights to Colorado ski resorts

Beginning Saturday, Southwest will fly direct from Dallas Love Field to Hayden and Montrose, Colorado to Steamboat and Telluride ski resorts.

DALLAS — For the first time in its history, Southwest Airlines is launching seasonal service to Colorado ski resorts using planes that have been parked by the pandemic.

“Quite frankly we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to do this in a normal environment but since we have some idle planes and some of our great hospitality warriors out there on the front lines, we’re able to add them into this and add more destinations because we have the capacity to do it,” said Jason Van Eaton, Southwest Airlines Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs & Real Estate.

Beginning Sat., Dec. 19, Southwest will fly direct from Dallas Love Field to Hayden, Colorado, which is the airport that serves the Steamboat Ski Resort.

Southwest will also fly a direct flight on the weekends between Love Field and Montrose, Colorado – the home of Telluride.

These are seasonal flights through the spring, itineraries that Van Eaton said the Dallas-based airline has never flown before.

Both routes from North Texas will put Southwest in direct competition with American Airlines, which offers flights to both Colorado airports directly from DFW Airport.

Right now, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, United all serve Hayden, Colo.

Even in the pandemic, Southwest said it thinks seasonal demand will make this worth it.

“We think that it is what you call the Southwest effect. When we enter a new market, the fares come down and the passengers go up,” Van Eaton added.

In Steamboat Springs, local officials said they have worked for about five years to convince Southwest to begin direct flights from Dallas where a large portion of their customers are from.

“Yeah, Texas is a huge market for Colorado and certainly Steamboat. We see visitors from the Texas markets year around and skiing is a huge deal to people in Texas and we are really happy to have them here,” said Maren Franciosi, communications director at Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.

The pandemic required Steamboat to make some changes, Franciosi said.

Riders in each gondola and on each ski lift must all be from the same party, she explained. Plus, Franciosi said that mountain restaurants are open but only for “grab-and-go” and outdoor dining.

Even as demand for travel has fallen during the pandemic, Southwest said it is using this as an opportunity to expand to new destinations that it does not normally serve rather than leaving its planes parked. 

“We have,” Van Eaton added. “We have added about ten dots to our map, as we call it.”

Colorado is only behind New York and Los Angeles, Van Eaton explained, as the most popular destinations for Texans traveling by air.