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Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 10:52 am

What happened to CO at DIA. I heard that DIA was originally planned for 2 airlines as a hub. Why did CO leave such a gorgeous airport and leave UA to feed off of vacationers AND business travellers. I go there quite often and it is by far the nicest airport I've been to (I'm from NYC so that airport looks like a palace), so why did CO leave. Also it is at full capacity so how did Denver expect to have a 2 hub airport?

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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 10:59 am

CO fled DEN because of tough competition from United from the Stapleton days. They were suffering long before the new airport.

However, the higher fees of the new airport was another factor.

Denver wasn't expecting Frontier to become as big as it is now, that is why Denver is at full capacity.

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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 11:00 am

Who knows why? But it was probably a good idea. Look at the financial status of UAL and CO. ( cheap shot, i know) Maybe they heard prelim news about Frontier? Also, IAH is very close to DIA. Only a 1.5 hour flight. Not wise hub.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 11:00 am

I know one of CO's main reasons for leaving Denver was high landing Fees at Stapleton. When the switch happened to the new airport the fees were too high and the yields from the fierce competition were too low so Continental decided to get out. Also the hub at Denver was a result of WWII when they did work for the military at the Denver Modification Center where it modified B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-29 Super Fotresses for the U.S. war effort. The hub never really fit into their network which focuses on the eastern part of the country.

As for why Denver is at capacity now is because F9 has taken over much of the A concourse where Continental was orginally going to be located. F9 has had massive expansion recently, and this has happened since CO left Denver.

I am not 100% sure about this, but I think this is correct.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 11:04 am


I know about F9; however, How could CO have a reasonable hub on concourse A? It is almost half the size of Concourse B which UA owns all of (including part of A). 2 hubs would leave little room if any for other airlines.

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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 11:18 am

Continental went into bankruptcy for the second time in 1990.

Because of this, they had to make some serious cost cuts, and didn't want to pay the new, much higher fees at DIA. So they pulled down their hub at Denver.

CO's hub was not as big as UAL's at Denver, and originally they would have had all the gates at A, with shared use of the international gates.

When CO did pull out, UAL assumed the leases for eight gates on A. With other A gates now available, the guys who started the "new" Frontier decided to act.

Two hubs would leave very little room for other airlines? That's true - now.

No one quite expected Frontier to expand as much as it had, and Terminals A and B are full.

All the other airlines have to use C, although I believe that any airline that wants to start international service (intercontinental, at least) would have a gate made available on A.


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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 11:19 am

Well UA has traditionally been the largest carrier in DEN. The A concourse was to have international arrivals and airlines as well as CO. From what I understand, UA was not supposed to have mainline gates at A, and they ended up with express gates there when there was a serious vacancy when CO pulled out. Also all other airlines were to be at Concourse C, which has adequate space for most of the airlines flying there. However UA still dominates the airport with about 50% of the departures, so therefore they use about 50% of the gates and this is this is the reason why Concourse B is supersized in comparison to A and C.

The airport website is also rather informative.

[Edited 2004-02-18 03:20:31]
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 11:27 am

The original Frontier was one of three airlines with competing hubs at DEN, the others being UA and CO. People Express bought Frontier shortly before being taken over by Frank Lorenzo's Texas Air group. In what was known as the "Big Bang" all of the Lorenzo-owned airlines except Eastern were merged into a single airline, named Continental (however I believe based on what I've heard from other users of this site that in fact the surviving operator's certificate is from People Express).

When Continental eliminated their DEN hub in the early 1990s they sold the Frontier name to the investors behind the new Frontier, who I believe had also been involved with the original airline prior to it being taken over by People Express. The DEN hub was historically a major focal point of Continental's operations during the Bob Six route, and in the late 1950s through ingenious marketing Continental was actually the leader on LAX-DEN-ORD, driving TWA out of the market. Continental's pre-Lorenzo "mainline" was ORD-DEN-LAX-HNL. It is unfortunate that Continental was unable to continue operating a hub in DEN. Interestingly enougn neither CO nor its partners NW or DL operate a non-stop LAX-DEN or LAX-ORD flight today...

Of course with the exorbitant landing fees at DEN it probably wouldn't make much sense for CO to re-open a hub there any time soon....

Hope that helps...

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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 12:10 pm

If you're really curious about the topic, it (and indeed many other DIA-related topics) is covered thoroughly in the book titled, somewhat not surprisingly, Denver International Airport by Paul Stephen Dempsey, et. al.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 12:12 pm


NWA will be starting 2x daily DEN-LAX-DEN
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 1:32 pm

I thought I remember hearing that Concourse A at DEN was originally planned to be the same size as B to serve Continental's needs. When CO scaled back the hub, A's size was reduced out of fear of too much empty gate space. If this is true and A was designed as originally planned, Frontier would have a lot more space available to them at DEN.
Bill in ATL
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 1:39 pm

The answer is simple: COSTS. DIA's costs compared to Stapleton were a pill CO was not willing to swallow.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 1:59 pm

I worked at DIA on the first day of operation. CO was to operate 22 out of the 26 gates in A concourse. This was less gates then they operated out at Stapleton. They cut their flights back in 94 before the move. Continental built a high tech automated mail sorting facility in the A concourse basement. They had their stationary deicer booms like in Stapleton. They built a huge ground equipment maintenance building. They also built a hangar also.

Then all they had was their IAH, CLE and EWR flights on opening day. Pretty sad if you ask me.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 2:05 pm

DIA's costs are not why CO left.

CO was already on the way out... and its been well documented. They spent too much on their customizations at DIA to just pull out like that. They were too far in the hole in general, and needed to consolidate to survive.

Also, IAH is very close to DIA. Only a 1.5 hour flight. Not wise hub.

Its twice as far apart as CLE and EWR, or CVG and ATL, and a fair chunk farther than DTW and MEM. IAH is, despite being their biggest, not a natural hub for how this country is laid out. DEN is one of the most natural ones, along with STL (not fairing so well) and ORD (doing great) and even better situated than DFW.

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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 2:25 pm

United also has as big a presence at DEN as Delta does at ATL. It would be literally impossible for CO to reestablish a hub there unless United goes bankrupt. And that is becoming less and less likely to happen for now.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 4:03 pm

well it didnt help that the city of Denver really didn't get along with CO. Not to mention Mayor Webb was a big UAL freak.
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RE: Why Did CO Flee DEN?

Wed Feb 18, 2004 4:17 pm

Actually, no one has a hub as large as Delta's at ATL; the Delta ATL hub is the largest single-airline hub in the world. And the design of the Denver Int'l terminal complex is evidence to how efficient the ATL terminal and concourses are, given that it is a (somewhat smaller) copy.

Yes, CO was on its way out at DEN; I think it's fairly obvious given that they managed to negotiate in advance an exit clause from their leases which allowed them to abandon their hub prior to DIA's opening. To be frank, I think that they planned it from the day they agreed to move to DIA; once CO signed on to the project, United was forced to follow suit. And, as a result, United has been saddled with the near-highest-in-the-nation landing fees resulting from the shameful cost overruns of Pena's boondoggle on the plains. Yes, it's a lovely facility, but it almost seems that Denver passengers were an afterthought given the terminal's location far from Denver and the lack of a pedestrian walkway to Concourses B and C (and the bridge to A was added at CO's request). While the ultimate buildout will handle over 100 million annual passengers, I doubt we'll ever see anywhere near that number of passengers at DEN. Passenger counts at DIA even before 9/11 had barely passed the numbers seen in Stapleton's peak years.

DEN is only well-suited for connections to/from the West Coast and Mountain West. SLC is comparably well-situated but in a significantly smaller metro area. STL is probably the best-located U.S. hub for omnidirectional connections (but has weak O&D). IAH doesn't do well for all connecting itineraries, but it is in an excellent location for lucrative connections to Mexico and Central America.

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