Southwest Airlines is getting more gates at Denver Airport

Feb 21, 2020

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Southwest Airlines looks set to grow at Denver International Airport with a new deal that will give it 16 more gates.

The Dallas-based carrier would use the 16 gates under construction on Concourse C at Denver Airport (DEN) under an updated lease, according to the agenda for a Denver City Council committee meeting. The new facilities would give Southwest 40 gates on Concourse C by 2022.

The gate deal comes as the Boeing 737 MAX grounding has hamstrung Southwest’s ambitions to grow. After shrinking capacity by 1.6% year-over-year in 2019 because of the MAX suspension, executives said in January that what little growth the airline does see this year will be concentrated at its Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Denver and Houston Hobby (HOU) bases, as well as to Hawaii.

Denver is Southwest’s third largest city by flight numbers, with 214 daily departures at the end of December, according to the carrier.

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Denver International Airport is adding 39 gates across its three concourses. (Image by Denver International Airport)
Denver International Airport is adding 39 gates across its three concourses. (Image by Denver International Airport)

 

Southwest has sought the additional gates since at least last May. At the time, the airline’s CEO, Gary Kelly, told reporters that the airline would “like all of them.” The added gates in Concourse C are part of the airport’s $1.5 billion expansion across all three concourses.

Southwest spokesman Dan Landson confirmed to TPG that the additional gates will support the carrier’s “long-term growth plans” in Denver.

The lease is the second such gate agreement in as many months for Denver. The airport unveiled a similar deal with United Airlines, its largest carrier, for 24 additional gates in January. That agreement was signed earlier in February.

With its new gates, United plans to expand its Denver operations to at least 700 departures by 2025 — its largest presence there since it opened the hub in 1982. The airline will operate roughly 540 departures from the airport this summer.

Related: How United Airlines’ Denver hub got to 700 flights

The Southwest deal, while expected, raises questions over where Denver airport will locate other carriers. Combined with the recent United agreement, all of the new gates under construction at the airport are now spoken for, as well as some existing gates on Concourse A currently used by Delta Air Lines and Frontier Airlines.

Asked about plans to relocate Delta and Frontier, airport spokeswoman Emily Williams told TPG that discussions with the airlines are ongoing and an agreement is expected this spring.

Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter told TPG that the airline will continue to serve Denver but declined to comment on its future gate location.

Southwest was the second largest carrier in Denver in 2019, the latest airport data shows. The airline had a 27.4% share of the airport’s 69 million passengers, behind United’s nearly 45% share.

Related: Southwest Airlines ‘absolutely’ harmed by MAX grounding

Denver was the fifth-busiest airport in the U.S. in 2018, according to the latest Federal Aviation Administration ranking. The airport appears to have remained as No. 5 last year, with No. 4 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) reporting 75 million passengers, though the official FAA ranking is still some months off.

The Denver City Council’s business, arts, workforce and aviation services committee is scheduled to vote on the updated Southwest agreement on February 26.

Frontier was not immediately available for comment.

Related: Denver airport will get the first of 3 new outdoor patios this year

Updated with comment from Delta Air Lines.

Featured image courtesy of Denver International Airport.

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