If you want to fly United Express out of Chico, you’ll have fewer choices come January. The juggled schedule is pretty confusing, but basically the late-night flight, the one that’s usually packed with businesspeople, is out. That means half the flights that were available just a couple of years ago are gone.

The move has airport Manager Bob Grierson frustrated and worried. “Our numbers had been growing at close to 18 percent,” he said of the enplanements and deplanements that airports keep track of to gauge use. Then, in 2001, United dropped a flight from the daily schedule. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dealt another blow. The Chico numbers stopped growing and then fell. “I attribute [the drop in travelers] solely to the fewer flights,” Grierson said.

Now, the city has learned, United—which filed for bankruptcy this week—is canceling another flight in the Chico lineup. Grierson found out when a passenger called him wondering why he couldn’t get a return flight several months in advance. SkyWest, with whom United contracts, didn’t even know about the change, nor did the airport’s new fixed-base operator, Chico Aviation.

Grierson, who was hired in 1999 and tasked with, among other things, helping the airport support itself by increasing the number of passengers out of Chico, said he’s not sure how to go about attracting more customers, when the carrier isn’t making similar attempts.

It takes less than two hours to drive to Sacramento and catch a cheapo Southwest Airlines flight. “I can never, never, ever compete with that,” Grierson acknowledges. What Chico does offer is convenience—especially valued by business travelers. “Now it’s going to be more difficult for people who would normally take the red-eye in.

“I’m pushing for us to have another carrier,” Grierson said, mentioning that Delta has shown an interest in the Chico market. “My No. 1 hope is that United goes through a successful restructuring and United Express continues to grow.”

United Airlines didn’t call me back by press time. If you have something to say about the schedule changes, Grierson suggested writing Janet Kimoff at United Airlines, 1200 Algonquin Road, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60007 or call (847) 700-9431.

OK, OK, we’ll go

The Third Annual Tri County Economic Forecast Conference is being held Jan. 16 at Chico State University, and I get the idea it’s going to be a winner, based partly on the fact that our office got no fewer than five glossy, Chico State-based announcements about the $45 event. I didn’t get one personally, but our former editor who’s been gone for four years did, along with an old intern, a freelancer and someone I think was an ad rep before I got here.

I went to part of the conference last year and the year before, and it was interesting. Issues for this one include “the graying of the Northstate,” water and prevailing wage. But I don’t have an economics degree and I can tell you this: Not sending us five glossy announcements would help the economy, and the environment.

I apologize in advance to anyone whose feelings are hurt by this ribbing. I’m just having fun with y’all. The ED community is a little sensitive, and I’m sure the national economy thing isn’t helping.