- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Anna Erixon sat down at a laptop in her Lander home Wednesday afternoon and pulled up the Great Lakes Airlines website to book a flight.

She is a scientist for Merck, a major pharmaceutical company, who loves the Wyoming lifestyle. She usually works remotely, but once or twice a month she flies to Memphis or the company’s New Jersey headquarters for meetings.

The last time Erixon flew Great Lakes, she was stranded in Denver for two days when a flight was canceled without notice. In the past, Great Lakes has called Friday to tell her the Sunday flight she booked was canceled.

Erixon is starting to fly out of Denver International Airport, a six-hour drive from her home. When she does use Riverton Regional Airport, she tries to fly out as many as two days in advance so she has plenty of time to endure the expected cancellations.

As she scrolled through her flight options - never take the last flight of the day, she warned - Erixon muttered an ultimatum.

“If this one fails, I’m done,” she said. “I’m not going to continue flying Great Lakes unless they give us some communication and commitment they can deliver what they’re promising.”

Four of Wyoming’s 10 community airports rely on Great Lakes for air service. Since October, taking off from or landing in Riverton, Sheridan, Worland or Cheyenne has had about the same odds as a coin flip.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1grxD6T ) that Great Lakes could not be reached for comment, but airport managers speculate new pilot regulations could be to blame. Whatever the reason, business leaders say reliable air service is crucial to local economies, and airport managers say fed-up passengers are abandoning local airports.

One month ago, 11 students from all over the country landed in Denver. They were one flight away from a semester-long outdoor course through the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander. The students were repeatedly told to head to the airport for a flight to Riverton only to have it canceled each time. Ultimately, some of the students drove to Lander, while the rest were re-routed to Worland and were picked up and driven to Lander by Outdoor Leadership staff members.

“All of our courses are field-based, so being a day late doesn’t work for our business model,” said Bruce Palmer, director of admissions and marketing at the school. “I think students look at getting here and getting home as part of the whole experience, and it will have a negative impact on our image. We would hate for their lasting memory to be that it took them five days to get home.”

The program is flying more than 1,200 students and instructors into Lander this summer. In past years, the outdoor school staff has accounted for another 100-plus flights, but most of them are choosing to fly out of Casper, Denver, Rock Springs or Jackson, Palmer said.

“You get snakebit a couple times, and you have to make a choice,” Palmer said. “Most people flying in and out of (Riverton Regional) are not particularly cost-sensitive. They are reliability-sensitive.”

Palmer said the school is continuing to use Riverton Regional for its students for now, but they are devising a plan B.

Wyoming Catholic College, however, has ditched the airport altogether.

Late last year, college president Kevin Roberts issued a college-wide policy forbidding work travel with Riverton Regional.

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