As reported by The Denver Post, Ultra low cost carrier Frontier Airlines may soon stop using jet bridges at one of its hubs, and instead replace them with air stairs.
Frontier plans significant Denver expansion
Denver International Airport is in the process of expanding significantly, with the addition of many new gates, which is part of a $1.5 billion investment. The airport has now proposed $317 million in additional costs for a project that would see Frontier Airlines expanding significantly, but in an unconventional way.
Under this plan, the airport would spend $183 million to renovate and expand an existing ground-load facility at the eastern end of Concourse A. Frontier Airlines would take over this space, which would feature 120,000 square feet of terminal space. With this plan, in early 2024 the airline would trade in its nine “traditional” gates for 14 gates in the expanded ground-load facility. The lease would last for at least a decade.
For context, Frontier is currently the third largest airline at Denver International Airport, after United and Southwest. The airline has roughly 11% market share at the airport.
The catch? This ground-load facility wouldn’t have jet bridges, but rather passengers would board via ramps and stairs. Where’s the upside for the airline here?
- Frontier Airlines would be able to expand its presence at the airport significantly, going from nine gates to 14 gates
- The airline could cut turn times at the airport by nearly half in some cases; that’s because the airline could both load and deplane passengers via the forward and rear door, rather than just via the forward door
- Not only would this mean that the airline goes from having nine gates to 14 gates, but each gate would also be able to accommodate more flights
As Jake Filene, an SVP for Frontier Airlines, describes this concept:
“Anybody who travels internationally within Europe, you’re going to see ground boarding just about everywhere, even for mainline aircraft. So for us, it makes a more efficient process and allows us to do what we’re all striving to do, which is to have our aircraft in the sky and not sitting on the ground.”
Would this be good or bad news for passengers?
Frontier Airlines is known for its ultra low fares, and on the one hand seeing the airline expand significantly in Denver would be good for consumers. Not only would the airline be getting 56% more gates, but the airline could potentially operate more daily flights out of each gate. That’s a lot more flights every day, putting more pressure on United and Southwest.
That being said, I think this kind of gate setup isn’t ideal for conumsers:
- One of the nice things about aviation in the United States is that jet bridges are used for a vast majority of mainline flights, especially at major airports (unlike in Europe)
- On the other hand, at least these aren’t remote stands that you have to take a bus to get to; rather you’d just board directly from this remote terminal to the plane via a ramp or air stairs
- One disadvantage of this setup is that these new gates would be quite far from the center of Concourse A, so it would take passengers significantly longer to get to their gates
- Another major disadvantage is that Denver has inclement weather, at least seasonally, so I don’t see this being very pleasant when it’s snowing, raining, etc.
As much as I’m usually opposed to non-jet bridges at airports, in this case I’d say the consumer benefit of a lot more Frontier flights out of Denver outweighs the downside of the less convenient gates. And that’s true even if you don’t fly Frontier, since this would put downward pressure on fares out of the airport.
With a new proposal we could see Frontier Airlines expand significantly in Denver, though not without a catch. The ultra low cost carrier could go from having nine jet bridges to instead having 14 gates with air stairs or ramps.
This would have the benefit of allowing the airline to expand significantly at the airport, bringing more competition to Denver. At the same time, a longer walk from the main terminal and being exposed to the elements during boarding wouldn’t be ideal.
Personally I’d consider this to be a net positive, given the benefit of more competition at an airport like Denver.
What do you make of the plans for Frontier to expand in Denver?