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.
United Express CRJ-700 on the tarmac at Seattle
This flight was something special for me. My first CRJ-700 flight ever and my first United Express flight in quite some time. As I just discussed recently, even though my plane might have “United” on the side, the flight is actually operated by SkyWest under the “United Express” brand.
My flight left early…7am. That meant getting up before I think people should be awake and heading to the airport. At least it was a beautiful morning and I was able to capture a few shots of my CRJ-700 on the tarmac with the moon behind it. One of the gate agents was so taken with the moon she made an unusual announcement letting passengers know they should check out the moon and many passengers flocked to the window. It was kind of cool to see that level of interaction.
United recently started being more aggressive selling upgrades to customers. I didn’t get around to checking in at home, so I did so at the airport. I was asked if I wanted to pay an extra $29 for Economy Plus, which gives you a few inches of extra leg room, you sit at the front of the plane and you get to board earlier. I didn’t feel the need to pony up the $29.00 extra for the 2.5hr flight. Since the flight was overbooked, I had to get my seat assignment at the gate. Lucky for me I got seat 6D, which was Economy Plus and I didn’t have to pay. Due to the overbooking, United was offering $400 travel vouchers which went fast. Everyone who wanted to fly was able to fly.
LA was pretty smog free on this flight...nice!
Before boarding a gate agent came on the intercom and apologized they had no jetway for the flight and we would have to board on the tarmac. Ha! No one should ever have to apologize for boarding on the tarmac. Okay, maybe the average passenger might not like going down the stairs or dealing with bad weather (United does provide umbrellas), but to me it is always worth it. Being down with the plane and boarding on the tarmac is always a welcomed experience.
The take off on the CRJ-700 was amazingly smooth. There wasn’t the big jolt you get with most other airliners. Many pilots I have talked to, see the CRJ-700 as a hotrod. Improved wings and engines over the CRJ-200 make the CRJ-700 a nimble and quick aircraft. It is able to take off quickly, while cruising at Mach 0.78.
Going to the rear of the aircraft was an interesting adventure. Unfortunately when I got up, the sign said no one was in the lavatory, but by the time I got there someone snuck in. Unlike larger aircraft there is no where to stand in the back of the CRJ-700. There is only the last row of seats and then, BAM the bathroom. So, when waiting you are standing in the aisle right next to seats with either your butt, crotch or thigh in their face. Akward for me and has to be annoying for the people in the back. When the passenger came out of the restroom, it was difficult to let them pass me without bumping into the passengers in the back row.
I love boarding on the tarmac!
The rear of the plane is also quite a bit louder. With the combination of the increased sound, not being able to recline your seats and people standing/walking past you to use the restroom, I suggest avoiding sitting in the back if you can. It would surely be worth the $29 to get Economy Plus versus having to sit in the back row.
The flight down to LAX was beautiful and clear, making the scenery a real treat. I only wish it was easier to see out my window in seat 6D. The CRJ-700 has windows pretty spaced out, as you find more with regional jets versus larger airliners. Some seats end up perfectly aligned and others, like 6D, end up in an odd position. On my flight back home I got seat 10D, which is not Economy Plus, but my window was perfect. Even at 6’1″, I would rather have a lined up window than extra leg room, but I know most passengers probably don’t feel the same way.
Even with the hindered view, having the extra leg room on the flight to LAX was nice. On both flights I worked on my laptop (actually writing up this blog) and it was much easier with the extra room (I have a gut that gets in my way, as well). Even with the person in front of me in Economy Plus reclined, I had no problems with my laptop being fully open, but it wasn’t the same in standard seating.
From my own personal experiences and reading those of others, I often have a lower expectation level for regional airlines. I was quite happy with the service, friendliness and professionalism from all four SkyWest flight attendants working the United Express flights.
Even though the plane might be a bit smaller and have a few draw backs (ie don’t sit in the back and go to the restroom before flying), the positives outweigh the negatives. Running smaller aircraft, like the CRJ-700, allows airlines to provide more daily flights and in more cases at a cheaper fare. Getting on and off the plane is much quicker than a larger Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 and if you are an airline nerd (which you might be reading this), you have a greater chance to board on the tarmac.
What a beautiful morning to fly. United Express (with white nose - N708SK) CRJ-700 with a United Boeing 757 and moon in the background at SEA.
Back to Seattle Tacoma International Airport probably the last time before they install body scanners. Waiting for my United Express flight down to LAX for a special event that United holds for all their VIP passengers to connect and get feedback. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (what’s Twitter?) to see all the action.
I am excited to check out one of these events and also for the flight down to LAX. This will be my first flight on a Canadair Regional Jet 700. Being based in Seattle, there just aren’t that many regional jets that fly out of here and most of my connections with-in the US have been on larger aircraft.
I enjoyed flying on the ERJ-145 with its 2:1 layout and interested to check out this CRJ-700 with mostly 2:2 layout. The United Express flight is being flown by Skywest and according to SeatGuru.com, this plane should have First Class and United Economy Plus seats. I ended up with seat 6D which should be economy plus and I didn’t have to pay a dime more to get it. Should be a good flight.
United Express CRJ-700 operated by SkyWest in Aspen (N724SK)
The beautiful resort town of Aspen! It might be beautiful year round, but most people will associate amazing skiing and snow with the town. To help bring skiers each year, three major airlines served the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, but this ski season, there will only be one.
Frontier Airlines has been serving the town since 2008, using Q400’s. With Frontier’s new parent company, Republic Airways, wanting to phase out the Q400’s, they don’t feel it makes economic sense to fly their Embraer aircraft to the resort town.Frontier were trying to sell tickets over the winter to prove the route could be profitable, but they have decided to discontinue service as of September 30th.
Delta flew to Aspen from Salt Lake City and Atlanta and feel continuing the flights just doesn’t make economic sense.
Just because only one airline remains, don’t assume Aspen will turn into a ghost town. Even with the departure of Frontier and Delta, the town will only be losing 20% of their seating capacity. United Express will still be flying 12 daily flights from Denver this winter as well as three each from Chicago and Los Angeles and one daily from San Francisco.
The airport is planning a 1000 foot runway expansion in an effort to lure back Frontier and Delta. Since both airlines don’t see the economics with the smaller aircraft they are flying now, I am not quite sure how a longer runway will increase possible passenger loads.
Source: Denver Business Journal Image: Carrera Turbo