Southwest Airlines Co. said Thursday it will offer 13 daily nonstop flights to Chicago, Las Vegas and Phoenix when it begins serving Denver International Airport early next year.
The expanding carrier had avoided Denver's airport for more than a decade because of high costs, but officials reconsidered because of recent cost cuts for carriers.
At DIA, it will compete against United Airlines, the primary subsidiary of holding company UAL Corp., as it emerges from bankruptcy and Denver-based Frontier Airlines, which combined have about 75 percent of DIA's market.
The Dallas-based discount carrier said last week it planned to return to Denver, where it had served Stapleton International Airport from 1983 to 1986.
The airline said it will offer four daily flights to Chicago's Midway Airport, five to Las Vegas and four to Phoenix.
Southwest said it will have two gates at the Denver airport and employ about 40 workers there. Its operations in Denver are scheduled to begin Jan. 3.
When DIA opened in 1995, airlines were charged an average of $16.85 per passenger in fees associated with landings, gate rent and other lease costs. That average has dropped to an estimated $14.30 per passenger this year as airport officials have reduced operating expenses, debt has leveled off and passenger traffic has grown, airport finance manager Amy Weston said.
Shares of Southwest fell 14 cents to close at $15.44 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.
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After a 20 year absence due to high fees, Southwest is again flying from DIA.
By next spring, Southwest expects to lease a dozen gates at the airport, meaning it could double the schedule of 53 flights a day it has now.
With 30 daily flights out of DIA, CEO Kelly sees eventually more than 50 flights -- maybe even approaching the 150 out of Baltimore.