Saturday, December 02, 2017

United Express daily service from Pueblo to Denver takes flight

Paul Karagas was thrilled to fly out of Pueblo instead of Denver -- and that was before he was handed a slice of celebratory cake. "Just the idea of driving all the way up there. And the (cost of) parking . . . I think it would have cost me the same amount money," he said.

Friday marked the switch to daily 50-passenger United Express regional jet service between Pueblo Memorial Airport and Denver International Airport, subsidized by the federal government's Essential Air Services program. It replaces the daily service operated by Great Lakes Airlines that relied on smaller turboprop planes and less-desirable flight times.

The new service, operated by SkyWest Airlines, provides weekday early morning and afternoon departing flights, weekday afternoon and late-evening return flights and single flights on weekend days. The service also offers seamless reservations with United's domestic and international flights.

The inaugural flight from Denver arrived about 12:45 p.m. to a water-cannon salute provided by a Pueblo fire truck.

The flight carried a handful of passengers, who were greeted on the tarmac by a welcoming ceremony attended by about 50 community representatives. Inside the airport, the handful of passengers set to make the first flight back to Denver were starting to arrive.

Everyone received cake.

One of the passengers from Denver was Javier Soteldo Brandt, a cable television system worker who is on assignment in the Pueblo area the next few weeks.

"It felt really nice. The pilot and the attendant were really nice," Brandt said.

He didn't know until after he landed that he was among the first group to use the new service, he said. In between bites of his cake, he thanked his boss. "We were thinking of driving and my boss said, 'Just take a plane,' " he said.

Bookings for the new service have started off slowly, but Pueblo leaders expect they will steadily increase over coming months. A one-way ticket for the Pueblo leg generally costs $60 to $90 depending on travel dates, final destination and how far in advance the reservation is booked.

A marketing campaign launched by the city notes that the Pueblo flight links up with 370 other United and United Express flights out of Denver. The city also stresses the ease, time savings and comparable net costs of flying out of Pueblo rather than Denver.

Another passenger on the inaugural flight was SkyWest spokesman Layne Watson, who traveled from the carrier's main offices in St. George, Utah, to Denver and then made the flight to Pueblo.

"We're excited to offer the service to the community of Pueblo. It brings convenience . . . We're pleased to be here to offer what the passengers are looking for, and that's reliable and convenient service to more destinations throughout the United States.

"We look forward to a strong community partnership," Watson said.

Watson urged area travelers to use the service, a message also shared by Pueblo leaders who spoke at the welcoming ceremony prior to the first flight's arrival, "I can't emphasize enough the importance of supporting the service to make sure it's a long-term success," Watson said.

Flights to Denver leave at 6:10 a.m. every day. On weekdays, a second flight will leave at 1:40 p.m. Flights to Pueblo from DIA will leave at 8:05 p.m. every day. On weekdays, a second return flight will leave at noon.

The service uses a quiet and comfortable CRJ200 aircraft. The cabin is staffed by an attendant. SkyWest is a leading CRJ200 operator and has been named the manufacturer's most reliable operator in North America five times, the company noted.

Customers can accrue frequent flier miles in United's MileagePlus loyalty program, the company said.

One passenger who gave a vote of confidence in the new service was Leroy Hensley, who lives in Pueblo and works for SkyWest's ground crew at the Colorado Springs Airport. He and two friends were headed to Kansas City to see an old Army buddy.

"We heard about the first flight and said we might as well do it," Hensley said. "I think it's super . . . I think with the size of Pueblo it's necessary to have, to help Pueblo's economy and, hopefully, it will grow," he said.

Karagas, the passenger who was glad to avoid the drive to Denver, said he was off to Nashville, Tenn., for a four-day weekend with a high school friend who promised him a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry.

A graduate of the former University of Southern Colorado, he returned to Pueblo last fall. Recalling a trip to look at houses in Pueblo, "I should have just flown then (from Denver) but we rented a car, drove here and had the hassle of driving back. The whole day was shot," Karagas said.

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