Casper/Natrona County International Airport Denver service

Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune

Passengers board an afternoon flight to Denver in 2015 at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport. United will start using planes that can accommodate 70 passengers, instead of the current 50, starting in February.

Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune

In a reassuring sign for regional air service, passenger capacity on flights from Casper to Denver will increase by 30 percent starting in mid-February.

The boost is a result of United Airlines’ decision to begin using a larger airplane with room for 70 passengers, up from the current 50.

“The 50-passenger aircraft are on their way out,” said Casper-Natrona County International Airport Director Glenn Januska. Maintenance problems and pilot contracts have led the shift to larger aircraft, he said.

“Our hope was to make sure that our market was going to be large enough and strong enough to accommodate larger airplanes without losing frequency.”

United did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but the company’s decision to start using a larger aircraft may have been incidental.

GoJet Airlines, which will begin operating United Express service from Casper to Denver in February, exclusively uses the 70-seat Bombardier CRJ700 aircraft for United flights, according to GoJet representative Stacey Ross.

Januska said the fact United was comfortable using larger planes without reducing the number of flights on the Casper to Denver route is a good sign.

“We can support the larger airplanes and get those integrated in our market which is what we’re thrilled about,” he said.

That apparently remains the case despite an 11 percent decrease in passenger totals at the Casper airport over the last year due to the economic downturn.

“We’re thinking we’ve probably seen the bottom in terms of what we’re experiencing at the airport,” Januska said, noting that the decrease has stabilized over the last few months.

Maintaining the four daily Denver flights with the larger aircraft will likely accommodate passengers better than combining multiple flights using smaller planes into a single flight with more seats, Januska said.

“Frequency matters,” he said.

Januska highlighted business travelers, who rely on the flexibility of being able to fly out in the morning, afternoon or evening depending on meeting schedules.

When the new planes are fully incorporated into United service out of Casper, Januska said most days would see three Denver flights using the 70-seat plane and one flight using the 50-seat plane.

United is the only airline providing service to Denver. Delta Air Lines currently uses 50-seat planes for its flights to Salt Lake City and Allegiant Air uses a 166-seat plane. He added that Allegiant was likely going to upgrade its aircraft in the next year, though the number of seats would remain the same.

The new United planes will offer first class and economy-plus seating, a first for Casper.

Ross, the GoJet representative, said the company’s aircraft will have six first-class seats at the front of the plane, sixteen economy-plus seats and 48 United Economy seats.

Gone will be the days of forcing oil executives, ranch hands and students to sit side-by-side, folded into cramped airplane seats, for the short hop to Denver.

But Januska said that multi-class seating will help bring Casper in line with larger markets by allowing airlines to offer customers who purchase a first class or business class ticket enhanced service beginning in Casper.

“If you’re a business passenger, or fly first class, airlines want to make sure you have the same experience from that first airplane you get on all the way through,” Januska said.

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State Politics Reporter

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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