The competition for airline passengers out west soon will benefit travelers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport as both United Airlines and Southwest Airlines add service between Baltimore and Denver.
United Airlines said it would add several flights from Denver International Airport, where it is the dominant carrier, including one to Baltimore in April. The news comes on the heels of Southwest Airlines' launch in Denver this year and subsequent announcement that it would add a daily flight to BWI next month.
"This is United telling Southwest, 'We're here and we're here to stay, and you're not driving us out,'" said Terry Trippler, a travel expert at cheapseats.com. "Low-fare airline Frontier was already eating into their market, which shows there was room for more than one airline in Denver. Is there room for three? That remains to be seen."
United parent UAL emerged from bankruptcy protection Feb. 1 after three years of paring its schedule and moving planes to capture the most business. The 32 departures added to the schedule from Denver will give the carrier 455 daily flights from that airport to cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Kevin Knight, vice president for resource planning at United, said in a statement that turning planes around more quickly at the gate enabled the airline to add the flights without adding more planes to its fleet.
Southwest began Denver service in January with 13 daily flights to Chicago, Las Vegas and Phoenix, its three largest hubs. It also said that it would add service to Baltimore and Salt Lake City and add departures to the other cities.
When Southwest enters a city, industry analysts say it typically adds flights quickly, forces down fares at other carriers and gains market share. It often becomes one of the largest carriers. At BWI, Southwest became the top airline with about half the market.
In Denver, the fares have already come down 40 percent to 50 percent, Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive, told analysts recently. (Cheapseats' Trippler said for now it's more like 40 percent and only in some markets.)
Kelly said in a recent interview that Denver had long been a priority for the airline. He also said BWI would benefit from the launch there with more flights and connections to more cities.
Yesterday, Edna Ruano, Southwest spokeswoman, said airlines are always keeping an eye on each other.
"It doesn't surprise me that United is doing something differently in Denver," she said.
BWI said United will have five flights to Denver when the new service begins April 2, Southwest will have one daily flight starting March 4 and Frontier Airlines will continue twice-daily flights.