Nathanael Greene, descendant of some of the original settlers of Rhode Island, started his military career as a militia private in 1774. By the end of the American Revolution, he would become one of George Washington’s most trusted officers. This type of pioneering would deeply entwine Rhode Island’s history with the Greene family tree.
This week, Kate Greene and her family would tackle a different kind of frontier: Frontier Airlines. Monday marked a big day for Rhode Island with the inaugural flight of the new daily service of Frontier Airline’s direct flights from Denver, Colorado and Orlando, Florida to Green Airport in Warwick. Accompanied by her husband and two daughters, Hailee and Casey, the family was welcomed at the airport by Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. The family of four was on their way to Denver to visit relatives for a week.
“We had no idea that this was the first flight, but the prices made it reasonable for us to take the trip,” Greene said.
Low-cost carriers like Frontier have enabled the family to consider a trip to Norway in the fall. Norwegian Airlines started flights from Green Airport to Ireland, Scotland and Norway this summer.
“Layovers add time to the trip, which makes it difficult to travel with children, meaning that direct flights are critical,” she said.
Greene also talked about her job at Roger Williams University. “Having the option for direct, international flights makes it easier for students to consider studying abroad, as well as international students wanting to visit Rhode Island.”
The Greene family was able to avoid extra luggage fees by packing primarily through carry-on bags and backpacks. Not all travelers were as fortunate. John Richardson, traveling to Coventry from Orlando, was surprised when he was charged a $50 luggage fee after he had paid $179 for his round-trip ticket. He wondered if he would get hit with another $50 on his return flight.
The flight from Orlando landed a little after 10 a.m. Mayor Avedisian, on the tarmac with other officials, welcomed in the historic flight as airport fire and rescue gave the flight a water cannon salute.
“How nice and quiet it was,” Avedisian noted. “Noise complaints have been down with these new planes.”
The plane, an Airbus A320, can seat up to 180 passengers. With a white body and green print, the tail of the plane was adorned with the image of Sammy the Squirrel. Each Frontier plane features a different animal. Showing off North American animals unique to their respective regions is a way for Frontier to showcase the different areas they service, says Tyri Squyres, vice president of marketing for Frontier Airlines. They haven’t picked an animal to represent Rhode Island yet.
The plane is one of 60 in the Frontier Airline’s fleet. The Airbus A321 is the other type of plane in Frontier’s fleet and can accommodate up to 242 passengers. By 2020, the airline plans on building the fleet to 100 planes. The oldest plane in the fleet will have been built in 2016.
The affordability of the tickets, combined with nonstop flights, is playing a role in attracting customers. Travelers arrived at their gate and seemed pleased with the journey.
“It was a great flight and only $39,” said Erin, a passenger on the first flight in. “My son goes to school in Providence, so with this new option, I can think about visiting a lot more often.”
Ron DeValk, who recently moved to Woodland Park, Colorado, was in the area for his son’s wedding and on the first Frontier flight to Denver. “Being able to come to Green Airport meant that we could avoid the Boston traffic, and security was a breeze to get through. Frontier Airlines raised the bar.”
Refreshments like pastries and fresh fruit were set out for passengers on the outbound flight to Denver. As people boarded, they were handed “goodie bags” with Green Airport souvenirs and a Frontier list of flights.
Squyres stressed the importance of Frontier’s commitment to “empowering people to travel and encouraging family vacations.”
“We want to create affordable and local access to air travel,” Squyres said. “It’s important to make it easy to just get off the couch and go.”
Iftikhar Ahmad was appointed as president and CEO of Green Airport in October 2016. Since then, Norwegian and Allegiant Airlines have joined Frontier in announcing low-cost services to Rhode Island. Frontier has even announced six more locations coming to Green Airport in October and spring of next year. Ahmad has been building traffic for the airport, which saw 3.6 million travelers last year compared to the 5.7 million in 2005.
In a statement, Ahmad said, “This is a great day for the airport. We recognize that Frontier has made a strong commitment to Rhode Island with these eight new markets and look forward to working with the carrier to expand our partnership with continued growth over the coming years.”
Recent renovations of the primary runway at Green Airport bring the total length to 8,700 feet. The extended runway opens to traffic today.
Frontier is using one of five “common use” gates at the terminal. These gates are can be used by multiple airlines, like Frontier, Norwegian and Allegiant.
“The renovations give airlines more options to provide travelers with,” Squyres said of the longer runway. “Improvements help everyone.”