More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, airline service reductions are still hitting smaller cities in the US. United Airlines is axing passenger service to Pueblo, Colorado, on January 14, 2023, as part of its recent network adjustment. Pueblo is the 36th US city United Airlines has been cutting service to since the pandemic began.
No Denver-Pueblo flights by United Airlines
In response to the pandemic-induced staffing shortage and low demand, United Airlines has pulled out of 36 US cities. Since the pandemic outbreak, Pueblo is the latest addition to the carrier’s list of cuts. The Chicago-based carrier will no longer serve the Denver-Pueblo route from January 14, 2023.
United Express currently operates flights from Denver Airport (DEN) to Pueblo Memorial Airport (PUB) up to twice daily. DEN-PUB is an intra-state route connecting United’s hub for the Rocky Mountain region to Colorado’s ninth-largest city. It is a 109-mile-distant route that takes a mere 30 minutes of flying on CRJ-200 regional jets. United Airlines uses SkyWest’s 50-seat one-class CRJ-200s to serve the DEN-PUB route.
Confirming the Pueblo service end, United’s spokesperson stated that the carrier adjusted its schedule for several reasons. These included passenger demand, the wider needs of United’s route network, and the like. While the clear reasoning for the latest cut is not mentioned, it might be attributed to rising pilot shortage woes and less-attractive demand.
In the pre-pandemic year, i.e., 2019, United Airlines served 26,007 passengers on the DEN-PUB pairing. In the following two years, the passenger traffic reduced to 11,272 and 17,668, respectively. Due to the pandemic’s toll on air travel, the regional demand has shown up less likely to rebound in the near term.
Southern Express to take over the route
While United’s newest round of service drop to Pueblo is certainly more than an inconvenience, there’s a silver lining. Southern Express, the commuter airline across the US, will keep the Denver-Pueblo connection alive. Just a day after United’s pullback, the regional carrier will pick up the route on January 15 next year.
Southern Airways Express (9X) will offer 24 weekly flights on this Colorado-based route. It will deploy Beechcraft King Air 200 turboprop to connect Denver to Pueblo, carrying up to nine passengers. This surely will reduce the market connectivity and capacity, but at least the city won’t be devoid of air service.
The US DoT’s Essential Air Service (EAS) program will financially subsidize 9X’s Denver-Pueblo route. It is a US government program enacted to maintain a minimum level of scheduled air service in small communities by subsidizing airlines to serve these communities. The carrier has a contract to serve the intra-state market until January 31, 2025. It will get a subsidy worth $2,992,087 to fly the route for the first year. Likewise, the federal aid of $3,066,890 has been fixed for the 2nd year. For Southern Express, this is equivalent to $135 in funding per seat each way in two years.
United Airlines currently receives $2,784,664 annually in federal payroll support to operate 12 weekly flights in this sector.
Which cities have lost United Airlines’ service so far?
A whopping 36 US cities have lost or will lose United Airlines’ service since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. These include:
- Abilene, College Station, Killeen/Fort Hood, and San Angelo in Texas
- Santa Rosa and Stockton in California
- Cape Girardeau, Columbia, and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri
- Lansing, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo/Battle Creek in Michigan
- Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg in New York
- Watertown and Pierre in South Dakota
- Clarksburg and Lewisburg in West Virginia
- Alamosa and Pueblo in Colorado
- Destin-Fort Walton Beach and Tallahassee in Florida
- Alexandria, Louisiana
- Eau Claire, Wisconsin
- Evansville, Indiana
- Everett/Paine Field, Washington
- Flagstaff, Arizona
- Hilo, Hawaii
- Kearney, Nebraska
- Paducah, Kentucky
- Rochester, Minnesota
- Staunton/Waynesboro, Virginia
- Texarkana, Arkansas
- Twin Falls, Idaho
- Wausau, Wisconsin
United’s pullout of regional service has affected airports in 21 states altogether. Although other carriers will still serve most of the 36 cities, the absence of the mainline carrier United will be felt. Passengers in these cities can no longer utilize United’s comprehensive network at its hubs to connect onward to cities across the US and the world.
About United Airlines
The Chicago-based United Airlines is a US legacy carrier flying to over 300 destinations across the US and all six inhabited continents. It is the third-largest airline in the world in terms of fleet size, which currently stands at 851. A few days ago, the carrier placed a historical order for Boeing 787 Dreamliners, with 100 firm orders and 100 additional options.