United bets big on winter travel in 39-route boost to the mountains

Jun 9, 2021

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Get ready to dust off your skis and snowboards.

Over the weekend, United Airlines filed a schedule update that offers a glimpse into its route strategy for this coming winter, adding and returning service to numerous Mountain region destinations known for their world-class winter sports.

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Specifically, the Chicago-based carrier is boosting service to nine outdoor-friendly destinations between December 2021 and March 2022, TPG found by examining data compiled by Cirium, which was later confirmed directly by the airline. The airports receiving increased service include:

  • Aspen (ASE)
  • Bozeman (BZN)
  • Gunnison–Crested Butte, Colorado (GUC)
  • Hayden/Steamboat Springs (HDN)
  • Jackson, Wyoming (JAC)
  • Kalispell, Montana (FCA)
  • Montrose (MTJ)
  • Sun Valley, Idaho (SUN)
  • Vail/Eagle (EGE)

United will either add frequencies or upgauge aircraft — or both — to each of these airports, from every hub that it flies from. The full list of changes on the 39 affected routes is listed at the bottom of this story.

Though many of the boosts restore United back to pre-pandemic levels of service this winter, some of the schedule updates represent notable growth from the historic highs of 2019.

Much of that expansion comes on routes from Denver, one of the fastest-growing United hubs both before and during the pandemic. Bozeman, Jackson Hole and Vail will see increased frequency, with up to five, five and four daily flights from DEN during peak season, respectively.

Kalispell will see larger aircraft and increased frequency from DEN with up to four daily flights, and Gunnison will add a third daily flight from Denver during the winter.

In Sun Valley, United will extend its season into the Fall with one daily flight from Denver, marking the first time that UA has offered year-round service to this Idaho ski resort town. In another first for United, the carrier will offer up to two daily departures to the town from DEN in peak winter periods.

The other increases from pre-pandemic levels are on flights from Chicago O’Hare (ORD). Kalispell will see increased weekend service from ORD, while Hayden and Montrose will be operated by mainline, 126-seat Airbus A319s instead of regional jets during the winter season. Finally, Jackson Hole will see increased service from ORD, with up to two daily flights.

A United Express Embraer 175 in Bozeman (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

All together, Cirium schedules show that United’s planning roughly 10% to 15% more flights and nearly 25% more available seats on all of its routes to the nine airports above between December 2021 and March 2022, compared to the same months in 2019.

During the 2020-2021 winter season, United operated roughly 20% fewer flights to these Rocky Mountain airports than 2019 levels.

Now, however, United’s optimistic winter boosts come as travel, especially within the leisure segment, is rebounding back to pre-pandemic levels. Thanks to the widespread vaccine rollout and falling case numbers, more and more travelers are comfortable returning to the skies.

Related: Review of United’s brand-new bus service between Denver and Breckenridge

Throughout the last year and a half, outdoor-friendly destinations have proven popular with pandemic-weary flyers looking for places with plenty of built-in social distancing.

United’s seemingly betting that this trend will continue into the winter, as it expects leisure travelers to pack their skies and return to the slopes.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Origin Destination Previous schedule New schedule
Aspen (ASE) Houston (IAH) No flights 3-4x daily
San Francisco (SFO) No flights 2x daily
Bozeman (BZN) Chicago (ORD) 1x daily 2x daily
Denver (DEN) ~3x daily 5x daily
IAH No flights 1x daily
Newark (EWR) From 737-700 To 737-800
Gunnison–Crested Butte, Colorado (GUC) DEN 1x daily 3x daily
IAH No flights 1x daily
Hayden/Steamboat Springs (HDN) DEN 3x daily 4x daily
EWR No flights Up to 2x weekly
IAH No flights 1x daily
Los Angeles (LAX) No flights 1x daily
ORD No flights 1x daily
SFO No flights 1x weekly
Washington Dulles (IAD) No flights 1x weekly
Jackson, Wyoming (JAC) DEN 3x daily Up to 5x daily
EWR No flights 1x daily
IAH No flights Up to 1x daily
LAX No flights 1x daily
ORD No flights Up to 2x daily
SFO No flights Up to 2x daily
Kalispell, Montana (FCA) DEN From A319 and CRJ-200 To A319, CRJ-200, Boeing 737-800 and Embraer 175
ORD No flights 1x daily during December holdiays, then up to 2x weekly
Montrose (MTJ) DEN 5x daily 4x daily (but larger aircraft mean net gain of daily seats)
EWR No flights 1x daily
IAH No flights 1x daily
LAX No flights 2x weekly
ORD No flights 1x daily
SFO No flights Up to 1x daily
Sun Valley, Idaho (SUN) DEN Up to 1x daily Up to 2x daily (December 2021 – March 2022)
LAX No flights 1x daily
ORD No flights 1x daily during December holdiays, then up to 1x weekly
SFO No flights 1x daily
Vail/Eagle (EGE) EWR No flights 1x daily
DEN 2x daily 3-4x daily
IAH No flights 1x daily
LAX No flights 1x weekly
ORD No flights 2x daily
SFO No flights 1x daily


Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy. 

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