Durango-La Plata County Airport customers rarely eat lunch for hours at the Runway Cantina or have to “beeline” to another gate after getting off an aircraft, Airport Director Tony Vicari said.
But that changed, at least for a couple hours, on June 8, he said.
That Saturday was the first day American and United airlines flew aircrafts on a direct route from Durango to Chicago. June 8 also marked the first day of seasonal direct flights to Houston and the return of summer trips to Los Angeles.
As dozens of Los Angeles passengers entered through the automatic doors at Durango-La Plata County Airport around 2 p.m. that day, a few “were hanging a left and beelining over to an American departure gate,” Vicari said.
“I thought they were lost or confused about the layout of the terminal,” he said.
Most passengers on departing flights at Durango-La Plata County Airport pass through security, grab a coffee or a snack and wait an hour or so to board an aircraft. Most arriving passengers walk off the tarmac, through the sliding-glass doors into a secure area and move quickly on to their Southwest Colorado adventures.
Furthermore, airports work on what Vicari called a hub-and-spoke design with layovers coming at hubs. “We very much are a spoke,” he said.
But it turns out it was Vicari who was out-of-the-know, not the passengers. Opportunistic and savvy airline representatives in Los Angeles upended traditional patterns when they routed LA to Chicago passengers through Durango when flights at other layover locations were full.
“The handful I spoke to – they flew into LA – explained that published nonstops (to Chicago) were overbooked,” Vicari said.
“The folks at gate said, ‘There’s a way to get you there, you have to do a layover,’” he said of passengers in Los Angeles. “They said, ‘If you can get me to Chicago, I’d rather connect through the strange route rather than not get there.’”
And so, for a couple hours most Saturday afternoons at Durango-La Plata County Airport this summer, layover passengers milled in the quiet corridors of the single-terminal airport during a brief interruption to their cross-country journey.
But welcoming layover passengers this year likely won’t change how DRO operates. “I think it’s more of a fun oddity,” Vicari said. There are just a few layover passengers each weekend who arrive on the same 70-seat aircrafts that normally service Durango.
Airlines may not publish an LA to Chicago trip with a stop in Durango. But the quirk does show major airlines – with the addition of more direct flights from Southwest Colorado to major hubs – now see DRO as more than just a destination.
“It hasn’t made huge difference. It’s a relativity small number (of people),” Vicari said. “ ... I just find it fun, really; the sense that you get a little bit of bonus exposure for people who may have never heard of Durango.”
While passengers may have been well-aware of their route and their reason for stopping in Durango, Vicari said he thinks walking off a plane and onto a tarmac serviced by a single terminal “was unusual” for layover passengers.
Most travelers have plenty of options for food, shopping and even exercise at layover airports. Most major connecting airports have dozens of bathrooms, vending machines for electronics and kiosk maps to direct passengers.
Durango-La Plata County Airport has a wooden rocking chair.
“Instead of crossing Rockies at 30,000 feet,” Vicari said, “they (passengers) get some bonus in-flight entertainment.”