Starting this winter, area fliers can visit snowy Denver, or one of the 80 connecting flights available in one of the our region’s favorite travel destinations.
Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) is no longer just a place to catch flights to tropical destinations. Starting Dec. 16, fliers can visit Denver and connect to a host of West Coast hotspots.
The new flights are the result of a deal struck between RFD and Frontier Airlines.
“Our goal at RFD is to focus on low-cost, point-to-point service,” says Amy Ott, interim executive airport director. “The added benefit from Frontier is that you can connect to any big city in the West where Frontier flies. So, for example, you can go from Rockford to Seattle without going through Chicago.”
Frontier operates small hubs in Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo., but from its main hub at Denver International Airport, travelers may connect with 151 daily departures to westward cities such as San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Portland and even Fairbanks, Alaska. In all, Frontier flies to more than 80 destinations in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
But there’s plenty to keep a traveler in Denver. Approaching the Mile-High City, fliers glimpse the majestic mountains and wide-open plains of Colorado, before landing outside the white, tent-like terminal. The 25-mile drive to downtown Denver provides even more beautiful scenery.
This bustling city of 2.7 million and its surrounding region are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with activities that include high-altitude biking and hiking, whitewater rafting and, of course, snow skiing. Plenty of ski towns eagerly welcome visitors and flaunt their pristine slopes of fresh powder. The Loveland ski area, for example, averages 400 feet of snow each year.
Denver’s also a family-friendly destination, with noteworthy amusement parks, museums, cultural attractions, outdoor adventures, natural wonders and professional sports teams. Adults enjoy a vibrant night life and may choose from among dozens of brewery and winery tours.
Frontier flights bring something different to RFD’s lineup. The airport already offers weekly flights to four warm-weather destinations via Allegiant Airlines: Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.
Seasonally, fliers can reach sunny Florida stops in West Palm Beach and Ft. Myers, in addition to tropical Cancun, Mexico. Starting in December, fliers can also visit the beaches of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Although Denver is by far the coldest among these destinations, Ott says it ranks among the Top 10 leisure destinations for northern Illinois travelers. Five others – mostly to Florida – can already be reached from RFD. The remainder – including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. – are on RFD’s radar screen for the future, although Ott notes that all four can be reached through Frontier’s hubs.
“We’re still talking to airlines and international carriers,” Ott says. “Our goal is to achieve growth in a way that sustains itself.”
Airport leaders expect to serve 20,000 new passengers per year through the Frontier flights. Tickets went on sale in mid-July, and the initial response looks promising. “We got word from Frontier that our first week of sales did very well with our kickoff and promotions,” says Ott.
About 100,000 passengers depart from RFD annually, and RFD leaders expect overall passenger service to double during the next three years.
This isn’t the first time local fliers have reached Denver from RFD. In 2008, United Airlines ended flights to Denver after three years of service from RFD. Other carriers expressed interest in filling that void, but failed to seal the deal. This time things are different, Ott says, because flights are scheduled only three days per week. And whereas other carriers sought business travelers, Frontier is focused mostly on the leisure market.
“Frontier is a brand name that’s popular,” Ott says. “It has low-cost service, and a decent frequency [from RFD] at three days a week. Plus, you can connect to other destinations.”
Frontier Airlines got its start in 1946 by serving the Denver area. Today, it’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of Republic Airways Holdings Inc., and operates 550 flights daily.
RFD hopes to gain further attention through its “no-hassle” guarantee and perks, like free parking and easy access to highways, that distinguish it from Chicagoland’s other airports.
“What makes us unique, versus our competitors, is our hassle-free experience and our customer service,” Ott says. “Our goal is to make our passenger experience as pleasurable as we can, once people get into the airport.
“We have free parking, we help with bags, we offer wheelchairs, wi-fi, short waiting times. Plus, there’s a kids’ area. We’re hassle-free and family-friendly.” ❚