Wichita, you now have a cheaper option when traveling by air to Denver International Airport.
On Thursday evening, Frontier Airlines scheduled its first flight from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport to the Mile High City.
“We’re going to be celebrating a full flight today to Denver, which is awesome,” Valerie Wise, the airport’s air service and business development manager, said during an event marking the arrival of the Frontier Airbus A320, with seating for 180 passengers.
Frontier will offer the once-daily service on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
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Flights will depart Wichita at 6:35 p.m. and arrive in Denver at 7:14 p.m. local time. Return flights will depart Denver at 3:15 p.m. and arrive in Wichita at 5:40 p.m.
Frontier announced plans for the Wichita service in early May.
It’s fares are cheaper than United Airlines, its only other competitor in Wichita offering direct flights to Denver.
A roundtrip seat on Frontier departing Wichita for Denver on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and returning Thursday, Sept. 6, costs $186.40, according to Frontier’s website.
The same flight on Frontier’s only competition on a direct flight from Wichita to Denver, however, will set you back more money.
The round-trip economy airfare on United departing Wichita for Denver on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and returning Thursday, Sept. 6, costs $735, according to United’s website.
But a little more than a month later, that fare is more than halved. According to the airline’s site, a trip departing Wichita for Denver on Tuesday, Oct. 30, and returning Sunday, Nov. 4, will cost $317.
But if you come back to Wichita on United three days earlier, on Thursday, Nov. 1, the round-trip fare rises to $549.
Round-trip flights on Frontier cost $111.40 on the Nov. 4 return, and $86.40 on the Nov. 1 return, according to its website.
United flights to Denver have been a source of contention for Wichita travelers for the past couple of years because of its mid-week fares that have totaled as much as $800.
United officials didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday on whether the Frontier flights would prompt it to lower its fares.
In her remarks, Wise said United is increasing its seats on Wichita-Denver flights by 15 percent, and adding a second large jet to serve the route in October.
“United’s mid-week fares have decreased somewhat,” she said. “Instead of $815 their fares are now advertised at $549.”
Frontier’s low fares are what prompted Destry and Aimee Forcum of Kingman to make their first trip by air to Denver on Frontier’s flight.
“We go to Colorado a couple times a year,” Destry Forcum said. “Our son lives out there and the drive is so rough, but for the price we got here we decided we’ll try flying out. It was because of the prices we took the flight.”
“We’ll probably be doing this every other month,” Aimee Forcum added.
Higher fares, fewer passengers
Frontier has offered service from Wichita two other times. The most recent period was from 2002 to 2012, when the Fair Fares subsidy program initially brought the airline’s regional service here under Frontier JetExpress. That service was later scaled back from regional jets to turboprop service offered first by Great Lakes Airlines and, later, Lynx Aviation.
“We’re very glad to have them back,” Wichita Vice Mayor Bryan Frye said in his remarks Thursday.
He said after Frontier left in 2012, fares from Wichita to Denver increased 100 percent, while passenger travel there decreased 54 percent.
“So with the return of Frontier, we expect to see more passengers,” Frye said.
In Frontier’s first foray in Wichita, it operated big jet service using Boeing 737s at what was then Mid-Continent Airport until the airline declared Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in 1986.
Now under a new owner, private equity firm Indigo Partners, the airline is adding service to new cities almost monthly. It currently offers service to more than 90 cities in the U.S., Canada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico through more than 350 daily flights.
With the addition of Frontier, there are now seven airlines serving Eisenhower Airport with direct flights to 13 cities. The other airlines are Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Southwest and United.
One thing Frontier hasn’t learned to control is the weather — after the ceremonial departure and taxi to the runway, Thursday’s first flight returned to its gate. High wind in Denver had caused a delay. It took off at about 7:55 p.m.