Denver airport opens new gates for United Airlines, first of 39-gate expansion
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Airports around the country are opening expansion projects at a regular clip even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage air travel.
Denver International Airport (DEN) is the latest to join the fray with a virtual ribbon-cutting on the first piece of its 39-gate expansion Friday. United Airlines will begin operating flights out of the four new gates on western end of Concourse B on Sunday (Nov. 22).
Opening at a time when national passenger volumes are down more than 60% year-over-year, Denver and other airports are betting that they will need the space once travelers return. Salt Lake City (SLC) airport opened a new terminal complex in September, while Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Nashville (BNA), New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Portland, Oregon (PDX) have all opened concourse expansions in recent months.
Rapidly growing airports like Denver lacked the facilities to expand prior to the crisis. This prompted the inauguration of major airport works from the Mile High City to Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C. in recent years.
And rather than stop works already underway, many airports are speeding things up. Delta Air Lines and the operator of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have shaved roughly $60 million off the price tag to rebuild Terminals 2 and 3 there by cutting up to a year-and-a-half from the schedule.
However, some expansion projects not yet underway have been shelved for the time being. That’s the fate that befell the planned new Terminal F for American Airlines at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).
“New gates means new capacity and the opportunity for more flights,” Denver mayor Michael Hancock said during the virtual ribbon cutting on Friday.
Opportunity is the right word. In January, United outlined plans to grow its Denver hub to more than 700 daily departures by 2025. That would be the most there in the airline’s history and potentially enough to make the Mile High City the second-busiest on its route map.
With the coronavirus surging, few expect United to hit 700 departures from Denver anytime soon. The carrier will operate an average of 316 daily flights from the airport in November and 327 a day in December, according to Cirium schedules.
“These new gates really represent optimism here on our future in Denver,” Matt Miller, vice president of United’s Denver hub, said during the virtual ceremony. He reiterated the airline’s commitment to the hub and its larger footprint that will encompass 90 gates when the full expansion works is complete in a little over a year.
The Concourse B extension houses gates B7 to B12 and looks bright and airy in photos. One feature that travelers — not just those flying United — can look forward to is the airport’s first outdoor deck overlooking two runways. The space even includes a fire pit.
Four more concourse extensions at Denver are in the works. Concourse A will see 12 gates added to its western end; Concourse B will see 11 formerly ground-level regional jet gates rebuilt for seven mainline jets — Boeing 737s for example — on its eastern end; and Concourse C will gain 16 new gates to the east. The entire program is due for completion in early 2022.
Southwest Airlines will take over the 16 gates in the works on Concourse C. In February, the carrier planned to use the gates to add “depth and breadth” to its Denver base — one of the largest on its map — Southwest managing director of airport affairs Steve Sisneros said at the time.
While Southwest like United has been hit hard by the crisis, it is adding 10 new cities to its map — many of which feature new flights to Denver. The airline plans an average of 165 daily departures from the airport in December, Cirium data shows.
Featured image courtesy of Denver International Airport.
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