Slow airport traffic has cabs, hotels feeling pain

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Passenger volumes declined once again at the Colorado Springs Airport this month, news that’s become all too familiar since the recession began sinking its teeth into the airline business.

The only thing is, airports around the country have been watching air traffic grow over the last year.

At Denver International Airport, for example, passenger traffic rose 3.4 percent in the first six months of 2010 compared to last year. The Colorado Springs Airport, on the other hand, reported traffic in August fell 11 percent from a year earlier to 82,252, the ninth consecutive monthly decline.

The departure of U.S. Airways in early 2010 was a big factor in the decline. Overall, traffic for the first eight months of the year is off 7.4 percent to 580,618.

The effect has trickled down to the many local businesses that depend on airline passengers for revenue.

From cab companies to onsite restaurants, souvenir and coffee shops, these businesses are hurting.

“If I didn’t have a pension, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Charles Mahan, one of 15 Yellow Cab drivers parked in the taxi lane outside the airport on a slow morning this week.

Lance Rice, a five-year veteran cab driver, said he’s seen a marked drop in fares.

“I can’t say for sure when it happened, but I used to get five to seven fares a day out here,” he said. “Now, it’s down to three or four during a 12-hour shift.”

Mahan says it’s often a crap shoot at the airport. Sometimes he’ll wait three hours for a $10 fare, while at other times, he’ll luck out and snag a $200 fare to Denver.

Restaurant and store employees say they’ve had to cut back to make it.

“Sales have declined, and we’ve cut a lot of costs, including labor and product,” said Lisa Moore, assistant manager of the A&W restaurant on the upper floor of the terminal. “We’re just doing what we have to do to survive.”

Ed Okvath, general manager at the Holiday Inn less than 3 miles from the airport, also has noticed a drop in airport guests.

On a positive note, he said most of the hotels near the airport are able to limp along because of all the defense contractors and business parks that are nearby.

“Our occupancy and room rates have been improving,” he said. “We’re not where we were before the recession began, but there were a few nights this summer when it was hard to find a room in town.”

For cab drivers and restaurant workers, however, passenger traffic can’t rise fast enough.

“It’s been up and down and unpredictable,” Moore said. “We’re hoping it picks up. We want to keep people employed.”

Offering some hope, low-cost airline Allegiant Air began offering two new flights to Long Beach, Calif. and Phoenix, Ariz., this month. Both flights will take off from Colorado Springs five times a week.

“I’ve heard the 3 p.m. Allegiant Air flight emptied the taxi stand one day recently,” Mahan said. “And, we’ve heard a rumor that Southwest may be coming in here.

“That will help a lot if it happens, but right now, if it gets any worse, there’ll be a lot of drivers who won’t make it.”