United Airlines will launch nonstop service this spring between Denver and London, becoming the second carrier to fly the route and boosting DIA's roster of international flights.
The nation's second-largest airline will start one daily round- trip flight between its hub at Denver International Airport and London Heathrow Airport on March 30, offering one-way introductory fares of $319, not including taxes and fees.
United's announcement is a huge boost for DIA, which scored new service to Munich, Germany, this year. Observers say the flight could help Denver lure more overseas service - possibly to Japan or China - if it proves successful.
"We hope this is the forerunner of expanded nonstop international service and that maybe United will look at flights to Asia," said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Council.
"All of a sudden we seem to have reached a tipping point in terms of international air carriers looking at Denver," Clark said. "Certainly, the level of conversations with carriers has assumed a different dimension and accelerated."
He attributes that, in part, to the success of Lufthansa's flights from Denver to Frankfurt and Munich in Germany. The Munich service has been one of Lufthansa's most successful flights, helping prove that a solid market for international travel exists in Denver, Clark said.
Airport officials estimate that United's new flight will bring in tens of millions of dollars annually for the city by generating more airport traffic and tourism spending.
It also will make travel easier - and cheaper - for Colorado companies that have operations in the United Kingdom and other places in Europe and strengthen trade ties between the regions.
Each flight can carry up to 15 tons of cargo, which United said likely will include business products such as high-tech parts and medical supplies.
"We have people going back and forth all the time," said John Corsi, a spokesman for CH2M Hill, a Douglas County engineering and construction company that employs thousands throughout the United Kingdom and other countries. "London is the gateway for all those countries and regions that we work and live in."
United has long considered starting a London flight from DIA, telling the Rocky in 2005 that there was a "very strong possibility" it would launch service to Britain or Tokyo in the near future. Earlier this year, though, a United executive said the company likely wouldn't start Tokyo service here anytime soon.
United - which is Denver's largest airline - said its decision to start the London service is tied to a new agreement liberalizing air travel between the United States and Europe.
"The regulatory barriers that we previously had to overcome are now gone," said United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski.
The carrier said there is strong demand "from both sides of the Atlantic," particularly from travelers in London who want to come to Colorado to ski. United also can route passengers to other U.S., Canadian and Mexican cities via Denver and to other European and Middle Eastern destinations via London.
The airline will compete with British Airways, which has operated one daily round-trip flight between Denver and London since 1998. United's introductory fares are about $100 lower than British Airways is charging for flights between Denver and London in April.
The flight to London could potentially take traffic away from other international routes, although Clark and DIA officials don't think that will happen.
"Our biggest fear with Lufthansa was that the Munich service would cannibalize the Frankfurt flight," Clark said. "That has not happened."
Nonstop flights from DIA to Europe
* London (British Airways, United*)
* Munich, Germany (Lufthansa)
* Frankfurt, Germany (Lufthansa)
*United Service Starts March 30
United will use a Boeing 777 featuring 12 first-class seats, 49 business-class seats and an economy cabin with 197 seats. The first-class cabin includes seats that fully recline into makeshift beds. The carrier says it will install lie-flat seats in business class on all of its 777s within the next two years.