United is adding flights and routes out of Denver. What does that mean for airport traffic and security lines?

The airline is adding 35 flights, six routes and 12 gates, along with thousands of new jobs.
4 min. read
Planes on the tarmac at Denver International Airport, Feb. 25, 2019. (Courtesy: Kevin J. Beaty)

United Airlines announced Tuesday that it will add 35 new flights, six new routes, 12 new gates and three new clubs at Denver International Airport (DIA).

United will also double the number of early morning departures and late arrivals through Denver. With multiple expansion projects in progress, United said it expects to hire more than 2,300 people in Denver in 2023. The expansion makes the Chicago-based airline's DIA hub one of its largest in the U.S., bringing it to the same capacity as Chicago and Houston, where United currently operates its largest number of flights.

The six new routes include non-stop flights to Dayton, Ohio; Greensboro, N.C.; Asheville, N.C.; Lexington, Ky.; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Montego Bay, Jamaica. United will also expand flights to locations including Dallas/Fort Worth Tex.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; San Diego, Calif. and Seattle, Wash.

"Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and as the Mile High City's most flown airline, it's essential that we maintain the most modern infrastructure and fleet to support our local employees and customers and deliver a great experience," said United CEO Scott Kirby in a press release Tuesday. "Our expansion in Denver will further enable us to connect our customers to destinations across the globe and revitalize our presence at the airport with modern, customer friendly offerings."

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, announces an expansion of their service at Denver International Airport. May 23, 2023.
Rebecca Tauber/Denverite

The growth comes after a December announcement that United is purchasing between 100 to 200 new planes and bringing more than 1,800 new jobs to DIA.

The purchase is the largest order of widebody planes in U.S. commercial aviation history, and comes amid ongoing upgrades to United's existing aircraft as well. At a press conference Tuesday, United debuted its latest model, which includes Bluetooth screens at every seat and enough overhead bin space for every passenger.

In addition to the new routes and aircraft, United is opening 12 gates, on top of the 20 new gates in progress as part of an already ongoing expansion. Once completed, United will have 90 gates at DIA. The airline is also spending $40 million to update its existing gates at Concourse B with new furniture, charging stations and technology.

With long security lines in recent months, how DIA plans to manage capacity in the short-term remains an open question.

DIA's long security wait times have been the talk of the town for months now. The airport recently attributed the long waits to airlines packing more flights into each day -- which is exactly what United's expansion will do.

Kirby acknowledged that better managing security lines will be necessary.

"We definitely are going to have to do more work," he said. "We have filled the facility up and we are growing fast. Particularly the security situation, that's the biggest challenge, long lines. So we're going to need to do more. I don't know what all the answers are, but I think they have a good team to help solve those challenges."

Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington speaks as United Airlines announces an major expansion in the city. May 23, 2023.
Rebecca Tauber/Denverite

United's expansion comes as the airport expects 2023 traffic to exceed pre-pandemic levels, and after DIA was the third-busiest airport in the world in 2022. While the airport is preparing long-term for 100 million passengers in the next 10 years, DIA is experiencing its fair share of growing pains in the immediate term.

The airport paid $184 million to end a partnership with a contractor working on the Great Hall, and entered a new partnership with a construction timeline stretching toward 2028. And in April, the Denver Auditor's Office said it has lingering concerns about DIA's ability to manage large construction projects.

On Tuesday, DIA CEO Phillip Washington said he challenged his team to accelerate the Great Hall construction timeline, and that the airport is committed to helping United grow.

"Congratulations United. We are walking down the aisle together," he said. "We're married, and there is no prenup agreement. So we are excited to be with you, we're excited to go down this path with you, we're focusing and we're planning for 100 million annual passengers and we will do what we need to do in partnership with you to get there."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from United's press conference.

Recent Stories