The latest news from the airline industry comes from Frontier Airlines, announcing major cuts in its fares — about 12 percent for a typical itinerary — but at the same time adding charges for such long-assumed amenities as putting a carry-on bag in an overhead bin or pre-selecting a seat.
Just to see for ourselves, we checked on the Frontier website for several dates in June and found one-way fares from Denver to Washington’s Reagan National Airport for as low as $111.99 and round-trip tickets in the $260 range.
By comparison, flights from Colorado Springs (COS) to Reagan during that same time frame (even in midweek, when fares should be most reasonable) would cost $532 a person, for the nonstop from here to Washington Dulles or connecting to Reagan.
In other words, making that same trip out of Denver, compared to flying from Colorado Springs, is less than half the price.
That’s encouraging news for travelers who normally fly in and out of Denver. Frontier, with its new ownership (who formerly headed ultra-low-fare Spirit) beginning to show an aggressive strategy, now is undercutting even Southwest Airlines.
Trouble is, neither Frontier nor Southwest operates out of Colorado Springs. Southwest never has, and Frontier left with little warning last winter — months after identifying Colorado Springs as a rising priority with nonstops to places like Orlando and Phoenix, along with the service to Denver and connections from there.
Traffic numbers at the Colorado Springs Airport have tumbled since Frontier’s departure, with the statistics for January and February down more than 20 percent from 2013.
To its credit, the city has tried to market our airport, pointing to nonstop options still available on major carriers from Colorado Springs — United to Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston; Delta to Atlanta and Salt Lake City; American to Dallas; Alaska to Seattle. Promotional ads have tried to level the playing field by emphasizing the cost of time, longer security lines and far more expensive parking at Denver International Airport.
That logic works as long as the typical fares out of Colorado Springs stay within $100 or so of the cost for leaving out of Denver. And we’ve noticed that American (flying to Dallas and connecting elsewhere) and Delta (especially going from here to Atlanta, then beyond) often have maintained fairly comparable fares for Colorado Springs.
But those airlines still had less local business in early 2014 compared to a year ago. And the “load factor” of seats used in February looked only average: 68.6 percent on United, 69.8 percent on American, 81.4 percent on Delta.
What this all means, in our view, is that the “loyalty factor” is not strong enough among regular Colorado Springs travelers to stop many from flying out of Denver anyway. They need a low-fare option, or even more will be using DIA as their departure point. And now the fares from Denver are decreasing even more.
It’s too much to expect Southwest to try Colorado Springs, when it never did during better times. But we wonder why Frontier doesn’t see the potential of returning here with flights all day to Denver and perhaps nonstops to other cities. After all, Frontier has or soon will have service out of Durango (to Denver) as well as Telluride and Cortez (to Phoenix) in southwest Colorado.
Our airport needs the kind of boost Frontier Airlines could provide. And that need is on the verge of becoming desperate.