Airline Competition in Denver
I read these articles about Southwest Airlines expanding in Denver -
and I realized how much has changed in 12 years. This is why people in Denver travel are able to travel more, and their friends have more opportunities to visit them here.
If you stepped into your time machine and dialed up 1995, the year Denver International Airport opened, you would find very few flight operations except for United Airlines. Using most of the “B” gates they saw moderate origin and destination traffic, and heavy connecting traffic to cities large and small around the west. Back then DEN, (or DIA as the locals call it,) was the definition of a fortress hub. United Airlines owned it, and with exception to other airlines’ hub service, (i.e. Delta to SLC and Atlanta, Continental to Houston,) there were very few other destinations not served by United. The airport itself had a feeling of emptiness, with many seldom used gates among it’s sleek, modern yet cavernous empty spaces.
Back in 1996 I was in the process of moving to Los Angeles, and I flew out there about three times before making the move. However I like many others elected to drive down to Colorado Springs, located 70 miles from downtown Denver on the south side of the city. It’s not exactly convenient with a small mountain pass, a sluggish drive through a congested urban area, then four miles on arterials. But at that time Western Pacific Airlines, (remember the “Simpson’s” plane,) was in high gear and offering bargain prices. It was a well needed alternative to Denver’s sky high prices. Western Pacific gave Colorado Springs a tremendous spike in traffic; however they ceased operations in 1998, just after announcing plans to merge with Frontier Airlines.
Meanwhile back at the gigantic Denver airport competition was still lacking. Little development was in or around the massive swath of land, making DIA seem ever further away. (In Kansas as many still say.) Frontier Airlines, which started in 1994, was still adding routes and becoming a player in the Denver market. They managed to keep United competitive on the routes they flew – which was mostly two to three flights daily to select major cities. Over the years Frontier converted their fleet of old 737s to Airbus aircraft. Their customer service reputation remains high overall, and similar to jetBlue they offer live TV on board. Frontier also developed a large Mexico presence, (much welcome during our winter months,) and now even flies to Costa Rica. They haven’t had much success with point to point service outside of Denver, so the bulk of their flights still connect in Denver. However for us living here we’ve supported them and consider them a big player in our market, just like United.
Fast forward to the last few years. Southwest finally starts service to Denver in January of 2006. Few predicted they would consider Denver due to the high prices associated with a base there. Colorado Springs would have seemed a more logical choice, or even the northern Colorado Fort Collins/Loveland airport and it’s tiny terminal. (Which only Allegiant airlines charters serve.)
According to this archived press release Southwest’s initial cities were Chicago, Las Vegas, and Baltimore. Over the past two years the number of cities has grown and grown, enough to where airfare shoppers regularly add Southwest into their searches.
That low cost carrier traffic helped bring prices down overall, and things have grown rapidly at Denver by the regulars and more: jetBlue’s flights serve New York, Lufthansa serves cities in Germany non-stop, and United just announcing non-stop London service, adding a choice to British Airway’s already existing non-stop.
The underground trams serving all gates have been upgraded and synced for more frequent service. United is expanding it’s “B” gates to accommodate more, (and probably more,) commuter flights. When completed the Fastrack’s “East Corridor” will terminate at south end of the Jeppesen terminal, providing rail service between the airport and downtown.
I now find DIA constantly crowded, and need to use my not so secret alternative security checkpoint more and more. While annoying, it’s a sign of success – which is a good thing.
People will still have the regular complaints about Denver’s airport: it’s far from the city, long security lines, and it’s susceptible to blizzards – but we can’t complain about lack of competition and airfare prices. So thank you Southwest Airlines. Oh and please don’t put Frontier out of business. We like all of you – yes even United at times.