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.
Unitedâ€™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, Iâ€™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 Airlinesâ€™ operations at Denver International Airport. The second part will cover Unitedâ€™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.
Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 (N204FR) at snowy Denver with "Freedom" the Bald Eagle on the tail.
I was hoping to do a review of Frontier on an Airbus A320 from Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DIA) and then on a Bombardier Q400 from DIA to Aspen (ASE). However, life doesn’t always work out how we plan it. I was heading to Aspen to fly on a Beechcraft Starship, but snow had other plans and while in Denver, my flight to Aspen was canceled. Instead of taking a low-level flight on a Q400 to beautiful Aspen, I got to hop on another Airbus A320 back to Seattle (Note: I paid out of pocket for my flight on Frontier).
Not being able to fly the Q400 into Aspen and not fly on the Starship was bad, but for reviewing the Frontier Airlines experience, this actually worked out better. For my flight to DIA, I had to get up at 3:45am to catch my 6:15am flight out of Seattle. Before we left the gate I was asleep and woke up during the final 10 minutes. The flight back to Seattle provided me a better opportunity to review the flight and service.
When booking my flights 99% of the time I end up purchasing the tickets on the airline’s website, since it is normally the cheapest. In this case, it turned out to be about $20 cheaper to get my ticket through Orbitz — whatever, it works for me. When buying a ticket you have three choices: Economy, Classic and Classic Plus. The more you pay, the more features you get like free checked bags, free TV, and the ability to sit in seats with more legroom (check out the differences). Check-in and printing off the boarding pass were pretty standard and I was lucky enough to get a window seat, 27A, on the flight to DIA.
Every seat back has a little TV to watch movies and television, for a fee.
One of the fun parts of flying on Frontier is wondering what animal will be on the tail. Every airplane in Frontier’s fleet (well, those with a Frontier livery) have a unique animal. If you don’t catch the animal on the tail or can’t view the animal on the inside of the winglets, there is a nice big image of the animal when you walk into the door and the flight attendants make sure toÂ announceÂ which plane you are on. I got Mustang Sally on the flight down and Freedom the Bald Eagle on the flight back. I think it is pretty neat for each aircraft to have a different overall livery and I would have to imagine it is even cooler for kids.
The airline was extremely helpful and quick with helping me with my canceled Aspen flight. I wasn’t sitting at the gate for my flight, but kept updating my phone with the flight status. The second I saw it said “canceled” I headed to one of the many customer service desks located around the airport. I imagine this was much better than going to the gate, since no other flights wereÂ canceled at the time and there was no line at the customer service desk. The woman confirmed there were no other flights to Aspen from any airline going out that day and started looking for the next day. I asked if I might be able to just fly back to Seattle and she got me on the next flight — which was scheduled to leave in 45minutes for no charge.
Even at 6'1" I had PLENTY of room in Frontier's STRETCH seats which give an extra 5" of room in the first four rows.
With boarding they have an “express boarding” phase. These are for people that have carry-ons that will only be put under the seat in front of them versus taking up overhead space. The concept of this is simple and genius. However, I saw quite a few people lined up that had bags I questioned if they would put under their seat and when checking it out when I boarded, they did not. The idea is great, but I am not sure how well it can be regulated.
Frontier has all economy seats that are leather with fancy headrests and a small TV screen in the seat back. The first four rows give you five more inches of legroom, but the rest of the seats have a decent 31″ seat pitch. Although I was in the back of the (air) bus on the flight down to Denver, I ended up in 3A on the flight back which was a STRECH seat. Although a little extra legroom is nice, even at 6’1″ I don’t think I would be willing to pay anymore for the extra room. I felt super lucky since I could have been trapped in Denver for quite some time, but not only did I get the next flight home and a window seat, but also one with bonus legroom.
Having LiveTV is pretty sweet, but it will set you back money. To watch the TV it will cost you $6 or $8 for a movie. Part of me whats to be like “what the heck?” knowing I can watch TV for free on other airlines like jetBlue and Virgin America and why should I have to pay on Frontier? However, it does cost them more money and on a three hour flight, $6 for entertainment would be greatly worth it. If you are flying Frontier internationally, the TV is free, but movies still cost money.
Before we left the gate at DIA the whole window ended up being blocked with snow. Kind of cool and kind of lame.
On the plus side, you are able to get ear buds for free. It worked out for our flight, since TV ended up being free since the football playoffs were on (although I think it might have had more to do with being over an hour late due to weather).
When watching the TV, I found the controls on the arm rest quite annoying. On more than one occasion I ended up changing the channel with my elbow and I could imagine if you are in the middle seat, it being worse.Â I kind of wished they had the controls on the seat back, but of course that could make people pushing on your seat back a bit too hard. Not a deal breaker by any means.
On the flight south I was sad since I thought I missed my warm cookie because I was sleeping. However, it turned out they don’t give out the cookies for flights that leave before 10am. Oh yes, I did get my cookie on the way back home and it was delicious.
The only real bad part of the flight was leaving about 1.5hrs late, but I can’t hold that against the airline. It was snowing quite a bit at DIA and it took us awhile to get de-icded. I have to say I was quite impressed with how quickly DIA got planes moving. Of course there were passengers who weren’t so understanding and started to get pissy, but I would much rather wait for de-icing than not and deal with the consequences. It also provided a fun experiment in social media. I had been Tweeting about being in Denver and turned out one of my Twitter followers (@CruiseNerd), was in the plane next to me and sent a photo.
They were both a nice and comfortable flights, but since Frontier doesn’t fly to many locations out of Seattle (Denver, Kansas City and Milwaukee) I don’t get to fly them very often. I end up flying through Denver quite a bit, but Frontier doesn’t end up being the cheapest at the time. I hope I get more opportunities to fly on Frontier in the future.