Frontier Airlines launched its new low-fare air service from Knoxville to Denver with an inaugural flight and animal-friendly fanfare on Tuesday.
The new flights will offer connections to western destinations, including Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Portland and Phoenix.
“We’re very glad to be here and to be able to offer Knoxville great connections to the West,” said Cliff Van Leuven, vice president of customer service for Denver-based Frontier.
The fully-booked inaugural flights Monday night at McGhee Tyson Airport to Denver were the best welcome the airlines could have asked for, Van Leuven said.
Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown and William Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, welcomed Frontier in a ceremony at Gate 2 at the airport.
The officials were joined by a host of animals from the Knoxville Zoo, including porcupines, chinchillas, monitor lizards and birds that interacted with the passengers and made for a festive atmosphere.
The animals were honoring the Frontier slogan, “A whole new animal,” and the fact that each airplane features an image of a different animal on its tail.
Marrison said it took a lot of effort to bring Frontier to Knoxville, and he thanked U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., Sen. Lamar Alexander and Gov. Bill Haslam for their help.
“We’ve been working on this for about 10 years,” Marrison said.
Marrison said that fares out of Knoxville have already been dropping in anticipation of the competition from Frontier. Some of the advertised Frontier fares to Denver are as low as $109 one way.
“They’ve done their due diligence, and they will have a successful venture,” Marrison said.
Brown said he expected the lower-cost fares to have a positive impact on recruiting new companies to the area as well as helping to increase tourism and convention business.
“We look forward to a long relationship,” Brown said.
Matthew Wilson of Knoxville was one of the passengers waiting to board the flight to Denver.
Wilson said he had considered driving to Yellowstone National Park, but decided instead to take advantage of the low-cost fare to Denver. He said he planned to rent a car to continue his trip from Denver to Yellowstone.
Frontier will be using a 138-seat Airbus 319 aircraft that features DirecTV service available at each of the seats. Frontier pilot Iver Osbourne, a 13-year veteran of the airline, arrived on the inaugural flight Monday. Osbourne said he earned his Air Force officer’s commission at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base before joining the airline.
Hugh G. Willett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.