Denver International Airport is getting its first taste of the so-called Southwest Effect, posting an 8.3 percent increase in passengers in January compared with the same month last year.
About 3.5 million travelers passed through DIA during the month, fueled in part by the arrival of low-cost giant Southwest Airlines. Homegrown Frontier Airlines also continued its strong growth, while United Airlines saw an uptick in passenger traffic as well.
The monthly total represents nearly 300,000 more passengers than a year earlier and marks the busiest January in Denver aviation history, DIA said Tuesday.
The surge comes as little surprise, given the new competitive landscape in Denver.
Southwest, which launched service from DIA to three popular cities on Jan. 3, typically enters new markets with dirt-cheap fares, forcing entrenched carriers to respond aggressively and match those prices. That, in turn, drives more overall traffic.
"I believe some of the increase at DIA has to do with the reaction United and Frontier had to Southwest's arrival, in terms of marketing and service adjustments," said Phil Roberts, an industry veteran who recently retired from consulting firm Unisys Corp.
Airport officials are hesitant to peg much of the increase to any one factor, noting dominant carriers United and Frontier both saw traffic rise in January. DIA also hit record growth in 2005 before Southwest even came to the city, posting monthly gains 10 times.
But it's clear Southwest made its presence felt.
The Dallas-based carrier attracted 78,648 passengers in January, giving it a 2.4 percent share of the market right out of the gate, according to airport figures.
While Frontier has been leading growth at DIA for years, the overall January increase was the airport's largest monthly jump - when compared with the same period the previous year - since late 2004.
"Southwest certainly was a part of the increase in January," said DIA spokesman Steve Snyder. "We'll see in the coming months what the trends look like. It'll probably be a little easier to make a judgment (about Southwest's impact) at the end of the first quarter."
Overall passenger traffic in January increased almost across the board at large airlines and low-cost ones alike, while regional carriers flew nearly 18 percent more passengers than a year ago.
Frontier, which is based in Denver and is the city's second-largest carrier, flew 96,455 more passengers at DIA - 16 percent higher than the same month in 2005.
"January was a great month for us in terms of passenger numbers," said Frontier spokesman Andrew Hudson. "Certainly, a renewed interest in low fares helped."
United, Denver's largest airline, and its low-fare arm, Ted, saw traffic balloon by nearly 4 percent.
Frontier and United launched new advertising campaigns and initiated frequent-flier specials and other offers during January. The carriers also added new service, contributing to a 6.3 percent boost in flight operations at DIA compared with January 2005.
The growth likely is just a taste of things to come, some observers say.
United, Frontier and Southwest are all adding new services as they fight for passengers in what has become a super-competitive market.
"I would say that aggressive growth at DIA will probably be the norm for at least the next 12 months," Roberts said. "Denver is very fortunate. It has a hub carrier in United and Ted. It has low-cost carriers in Frontier and Southwest. It's a wonderful situation for the Denver traveler."
Tops at DIA
* Largest airlines* by market share:
United 57.4 percent
Frontier 19.3 percent
American 4.5 percent
Delta 2.4 percent
Southwest 2.4 percent
*Includes Regional Flights Operated By Partner Airlines. For United, Also Includes Ted Operations. Source: Denver International Airport