RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond International Airport (RIC) added a new nonstop service to its repertoire Sunday, as Southwest Airlines took off with its first aircraft full of passengers from Richmond, Va. to Denver, Colo.
According to Capital Region Airport Commission President and CEO Perry Miller, before the coronavirus pandemic, Denver was one of the top 10 busiest destinations from RIC, joining the likes of New York, Boston and Chicago.
“Richmond is very fortunate to have Southwest Airlines offer this flight during this pandemic,” Miller said. “Other airports are not experiencing this kind of growth, so it’s apparent to use that the airlines see this community as one that’s growing and one that it can provide flights and also make a profit, while providing low-cost opportunities for the Richmond community.”
Before Southwest’s inaugural flight Sunday from RIC to Denver International Airport (DEN), United Airlines was the only provider offering nonstop trips to Denver. According to Capital Region Airport Commission Public Information Officer Troy Bell, nearly 95,000 passengers make the trip between the two cities per year.
Given the popularity of the destination, Miller said that having two airlines offer direct flights from RIC to DEN will yield competitive pricing for consumers.
In June, travelers looking to fly from Richmond to Denver via Southwest can expect to pay an average of $144 for a ticket, or just over $300 roundtrip.
“That’s a significant accomplishment on behalf of the airport because we stimulate competitive environments,” Miller said. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure that we are moving people, business and commerce to advance the Richmond region.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller said there were days when there were just over 200 passengers flying through RIC, when the airport typically sees between 7,000 and 10,000 passengers daily.
“We’re now seeing the numbers increase,” he said. “We’ve had as high as 5,000 passengers a day, so we’re getting pretty close. People are anxious to fly. We’re excited to see them come to the airport. All that pent-up demand is starting to take flight.”
Richmond Region Tourism President Jack Berry said that this additional service to Denver will help provide a much-needed economic boost to Central Virginia, as he expects more people to travel this summer.
“This is huge for us,” Berry said. “The biggest thing for our market is direct flights, and adding Denver nonstop [via] Southwest is just a huge asset for our inventory of direct flights.”
Berry said that trip to Denver is an attractive one for Central Virginians because many local residents have friends and family in Colorado and other western states.
“Also, the corporate presence. We have seven Fortune 500 companies here, so business travel can use that, as well, and as a tourism component and meetings and conventions, it just plays perfectly into our portfolio,” Berry said. “We’ll be advertising in the Denver market to encourage those people to visit here in Central Virginia.”
Bell said that Southwest Airlines will be offering nonstop service from Richmond to Denver on a daily basis, a flight that Berry is hopeful local residents will utilize.
“Come July, the doors are going to blow off and people will be back traveling,” he said. “Please fly, and fly often.”