Fun times at the gate for the launch of United’s daily, direct service to London Heathrow (LHR) on a 787-8 Dreamliner. Photo: Kevin P Horn
United Airlines has been aggressively expanding its Denver hub over the last few years. Despite operating 471 flights a day and carrying 42% of traffic, the international routes have been limited to a few flights in Canada, a few south of the border, and the daily Dreamliner to Tokyo. Starting on March 24th, United re-launched, after a hiatus of a few years, seasonal, daily service to London Heathrow on a 787-8 as UA 27 and UA 26.
We were there for the inaugural flight and celebration for this exciting new route. This flight makes for three carriers serving London at once, with Denver’s biggest airline continuing expansion at the airport.
Getting ready for some long-haul flying, a 787-8 is at the gate with a 777-200 domestic in the background.
Domestic aviation in the western United States is a different operation than the population-dense East Coast. With major cities often 1,000 miles apart, often the only way to get between them in less than a day is to fly. Over the years, air traffic to the three largest Mountain West cities – Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City – has increased significantly as the importance of these markets has elevated through sustained and continued growth.
United Airlines has been a dominant force in Denver for many years, with an 80-year history that reaches back into the early years of commercial aviation. It is currently, and by a wide margin, the largest carrier in Denver by passenger enplanements, flights, and revenue.
United’s focus on Denver is no accident; the airport is its most profitable hub, a key part of its route network, and is a focus for continued growth within the airline. As a frequent traveler based in Colorado, I’ve wanted to explore and learn about how United Airlines uses its position in Denver to get people to their destinations, nationwide.
This is the first part of a two-part feature on United Airlines’ operations at Denver International Airport. The second part will cover United’s inaugural 787-8 Dreamliner service to London Heathrow as an example of how United is expanding the reach and prominence of Denver within its network.
David Achilles, who is an award winning director and editor (not to mention an avgeek) completed a very impressive time lapse video of his recent flight from Denver (DEN) to Burbank (BUR) and back while on Southwest Airlines. Before you get angry at David for having an electronic equipment on during take off and landing — have no worries, he received permission from the Southwest flight crew.
Frontier Bombarider Q400 (N502LX) sits at Denver, waiting to take me to Aspen.
Being based in Seattle, I have had plenty of opportunities flying on Bombardier Q400s via Horizon Air Alaska Airlines. When I had the opportunity to recently fly from Seattle to Aspen, for a ride on a Beechcraft Starship, I did not have too many choices on what to fly from Denver (DEN) to Aspen (ASE). I could either fly on a United Airlines CRJ 700 (operated by Skywest) or a Frontier Airlines Q400 (operated by Lynx Aviation). Being the aviation fan that I am, I chose my airline based on the aircraft type and wanted to experience the Q400 flying into Denver — lucky for me, it was the cheaper of the two tickets as well.
When landing at DEN from Seattle (SEA), I had about an hour and a half layover. This was a good thing, since the Q400s are located pretty much at the end of the airport, down some stairs and at the end of a very long and narrow hallway. I kind of wish I would have spent more time in the main terminal, since the waiting area for regional flight do not have too much to offer.
The Q400 is not known for being very roomy, but this flight was almost empty, so I had plenty of room.
Our flight was pretty empty, with about 20 people flying on the 70 passenger aircraft. Boarding was easy with one announcement made for people to start boarding and it only took a few minutes. One of the attractive parts about flying on a regional carrier is the increased chance of boarding on the tarmac. Although most air travelers probably hate boarding this way, for an airline fan, nothing can beat it.
When boarding there was a cart that passengers could put their carry-ons to be placed in the cargo-hold and not in the cabin. All I had was a back-pack, so I opted to bring that on board… bad call. Even though it was small (in carry-on standards) it still wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin. Lucky for me, I had no problems storing under an empty seat, but if the plane was full, stuffing a back-pack under my seat would have really taken a lot of my space.
For weight distribution, everyone sat near the back of the plane. I was in row 7 and I was the farthest to the front and there was no one even around me.
Many passengers might not enjoy this view when looking outside, but I love it.
Unlike Alaska’s Q400s, Frontier’s have sun screens and the seats are able to recline. Sure, nice touches, but this flight was only about 45 minutes, so these features meant little to me.
Engine start up on a turboprop is always my favorite part of the flight and those sweet Pratt & Whitney PW150A engines did not disappoint. Being in row 7, I had a favorable view watching them slowly start up and hearing the growl of the engines. Again, maybe not something the majority of passengers would enjoy, but it is one of the reasons I choose to fly on a Q400 when I have other options.
The views flying from Denver to Aspen were prettying amazing. Flying low in the Q400 sure helped.
As I normally do, I had my camera at the ready to take photos as we took off. Yes, you can yell at me for keeping an electronic on while taking off, but there is no way that a camera is going to affect an airplane. It is very rare for a flight attendant to say something, but this was one of those flights. I was told that I had to turn off my camera and had to wait until we reached 10,000 feet before turning it on… sigh — okay fine. I may not agree with the rules, but I am not going to argue with the person just trying to do their job.
We were also told that we would not be able to turn on our cell phones during the entire flight. Not just airplane mode, but it couldn’t be on at all. My guess is that since we never flew very high, we would still be able to get reception during the flight and possibly cause interference. Either way, I listened and kept my phone off and enjoyed the view out the window.
This wolf pup's name is Wolfgang and he looks pretty much at home in Aspen.
The short flight was pretty bumpy, especially near the end. Again, most people probably wouldn’t like the idea of flying on a turboprop in turbulence, but I actually kind of enjoy it . It was obvious that this plane had been in turbulence before. Even when the bumps were not that bad, but the overhead bins were shaking like it was a huge storm and competed with the engines on making the most noise.
The weather got worse as we got closer to ASE and with the rapid descent, the flight attendants did not even get up to do their final safety check, but asked us to make sure our seats were up and belts buckled for landing. Okay, I can understand that, but they never got up during the entire flight anyhow. Not that I need a drink during a 45 minute flight, but at least getting up once to check on the passengers would probably be a good idea, instead of sitting in your jump seat chit-chatting with each other.
Flying into Aspen was quite beautiful and a bit aggressive. We bounced around as heading down at a steep angle to make it into the airport. As an aviation lover, this flight was great, but I could see how most people would not think the same way. But, if you are looking to fly into Aspen, you do not have much of a choice, other than flying on a CRJ700 or a private plane. Good thing I love flying and most people are willing to do it to experience Aspen.