Ski Town Airlines Report Card

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One thing's certain in the airline industry: Carriers change their

rules like a pair of dirty ski socks, tacking on a fuel surcharge one day, charging for a boxed lunch the next. But skiers have other issues to consider: Who pays for rentals if your skis go missing? How much will you be dinged for an overstuffed bag? We rooted through the rules of five airlines serving ski country. Read this before you book.

AMERICAN AIRLINES: GRADE A-

Ski gateways

Albuquerque (Taos), Anchorage (Alyeska), Calgary, Denver, Eagle (Vail), Hayden (Steamboat Springs), Jackson Hole, Ketchum (Sun Valley), Montreal (Tremblant), Montrose (Telluride), Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Vancouver

Overweight baggage charge

$25 for each bag over 50 pounds

Excess baggage charge (more than two checked bags)

$80 per bag

Pay for rentals if skis are delayed?

Yes, but the amount varies on a case-by-case basis.

Skier incentive

World's biggest airline network serving the most ski-town destinations

Caveat

Good chance of routing through Chicago-O'Hare, the worst air-gridlock offender in the U.S.

AMERICA WEST: GRADE B-

Ski gateways

Albuquerque, Anchorage, Calgary, Denver, Durango, Kalispell (Big Mountain), Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Sardy Field (Aspen), Telluride, Vancouver

Overweight baggage charge

$50 for each bag over 50 pounds

Excess baggage charge (more than two checked bags)

$80 per bag

Pay for rentals if skis are delayed?

Maximum reimbursement of $30 per day, determined on a case-by-case basis

Skier incentive

Phoenix hub is rarely troubled by winter weather.

Caveat You almost always have to fly to Phoenix first.

CONTINENTAL: GRADE B+

Ski gateways Albuquerque, Anchorage, Burlington, Denver, Eagle, Gunnison (Crested Butte), Hayden, Montrose, Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City

Overweight baggage charge $25 for each bag 51-70 pounds; $50 for each bag over 70 pounds

Excess baggage charge (more than two checked bags) $80 per bag

Pay for rentals if skis are delayed? $50 for the first 24 hours; $25 per day for the next three days

Skier incentive The OnePass frequent flier program partners with Northwest, so you can use miles toward flights to a combined 17 ski destinations.

Caveat Meager 30-33-inch seat pitch in coach



DELTA: GRADE B

Ski gateways Albuquerque, Anchorage, Bozeman (Big Sky), Denver, Eagle, Gunnison, Hayden, Jackson Hole, Kalispell, Ketchum, Montreal, Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City

Overweight baggage charge $25 for each bag over 50 pounds

Excess baggage charge (more than two checked bags) $40 for the first bag; $80 for each consecutive bag

Pay for rentals if skis are delayed? Yes, for the duration of the vacation

Skier incentive Dawn flights from the East Coast get you on the slopes of Alta by noon.

Caveat Financially shaky



UNITED/TED: GRADE A

Ski gateways Albuquerque, Anchorage, Bozeman, Burlington, Denver, Durango, Eagle, Gunnison, Hayden, Jackson Hole, Montreal, Montrose, Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Sardy Field, Vancouver

Overweight baggage charge $25 for each bag over 50 pounds

Excess baggage charge (more than two checked bags) $80 per bag

Pay for rentals if skis are delayed? Yes, for the duration of the trip

Skier incentive The "Kids Fly Free" program, in conjunction with Vail Resorts, gives kids 2-12 a free plane ticket to Eagle-Vail airport when an adult ticket is purchased.

Caveat Most United flights connect through their busy Denver hub.

DECEMBER 2004