Denver International Airport hopes to introduce Londoners to sunlight with millions in incentives for United Airlines

3 min. read
Planes taxi in line at Denver International Airport, July 19, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver is a secret according to the marketing minds at United Airlines.

That's how the airline characterizes the city, at least through the eyes of people who live in London and other parts of the United Kingdom, in internal marketing documents. The airline and Denver International Airport officials hope to unveil this mysterious, rugged and untamed land of the West with a direct flight between London and Denver launched earlier this year.

On Monday the Denver City Council unanimously approved a resolution worth $5.2 million in waived fees and reimbursements for United to lure them here. The incentives were pivotal in the company's decision to bring the Denver-to-London service to DIA seven times a week, according to Laura Jackson, vice president of Air Service Development at the airport.

"Air service is a very competitive industry," Jackson said. "We are competing against airports around the world."

In other words, the world has only so many planes, and DIA officials want more of them flying in and out of Denver.

Airlines essentially rent space from the airport. Some of those fees, up to $4 million, will be waived under the agreement. The airport operates with an enterprise fund, meaning it generates all of its own revenue without help from taxpayers, Jackson said.

You won't see ads for the London flight on that Lite-Brite sign along Peña Boulevard.

The push is all about bringing the Brits here. To spend money. That's why the city-owned airport will reimburse United for up to $1.2 million in marketing Colorado as a "millennial vacation destination," according to the contract. United plans to play up Colorado's "Instagramability" in the UK.

Flights — and incentives — like these "absolutely" stimulate the economy, according to Jackson. A Norwegian Airlines flight to London launched in 2017 brought in $75 million, according to an economic impact study, and created 650 new jobs. That number includes positions in maintenance, air traffic control, stewarding and taxis, among others.

Incentivizing the $21 billion company aligns with Mayor Michael Hancock's vision for an "aerotropolis" -- a self-contained district, anchored by the airport and the people who fly into it, many miles from downtown. The mayor has trumpeted similar international flights in the past.

So why do airlines, which make huge profits in an industry known for iffy customer service, deserve public incentives?

It all comes down to economic growth.

DIA falls in Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore's district. She's on board with the growth and said United has sufficiently addressed the incident that ended with a passenger getting violently dragged from his seat on a flight out of Chicago on an overbooked flight.

"I believe the issue with the passenger, they've addressed, and so I don't believe that was part of the conversation," Gilmore said. "United looking to grow and expand within the Denver market is very important to DEN and the region because that enables us to attract other domestic and international flights that we do need in the region."

An earlier version of this article stated the direct flight starts in March.

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