Essential Air Service (EAS) routes are vital to providing airline routes to small communities around the country. While some states…
Trip Report: Denver to Phoenix Via Cortez
For this trip report, I will be taking a route not too often flown, Denver to Phoenix on San Francisco-based carrier Boutique Air. Yes, this route is flown nonstop many times a day, but not via a small city in southwestern Colorado.
Boutique Air flies the route between Denver and Phoenix via Cortez, Colo. once a day in each direction. The small Coloradan city is part of the government’s Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
The entirety of the Boutique route network connects small EAS cities with medium and large cities across the United States. Sometimes it’s just a trip out and back but many of them, including Cortez, will connect a small city with two larger ones, making for an interesting connection.
I started my day off at the Denver International Airport and arrived just over an hour and a half before my flight. Check-in cutoff time for Boutique is 45-minutes but the airline suggests arriving long before that to compensate for the sometimes long security lines at the airport.
As it was a small aircraft, they weighed all my bags and I told them my weight and I headed to security. The airline employee that checked me in suggested I use the security checkpoint located on the famous over Taxiway Bridge as it would make for a shorter walk to the gate.
Boutique Air participates in the TSA Pre-Check program of which I am a part of. Due to the bridge security not having Pre-Check lanes, I opted to take the longer walk to south security. After making it through security I hopped on the inter-airport tram and headed for the A concourse.
After arriving in the A concourse, I headed all the way to gate A65, on the far end of the concourse, where the carrier operates out of. They share the end of the concourse with Frontier Airlines and another local airline called Denver Air Connection or ‘DAC.’
The area of the terminal I was in was rather small, although I imagine it is the perfect size for Boutique and DAC, both of whom operate smaller aircraft, but it must get crowded when Frontier has a departure out of the gate next to it.
About ten minutes before departure time, I and the other passengers were called to board and we walked out to our aircraft.
The aircraft for my journey was N512NG, an 18-year old Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12/45. An interesting fact about this aircraft is that I was told by an employee it is the only five-bladed PC-12 prop in the entire Boutique fleet. All other aircraft in the fleet have four blades.
As this flight was particularly empty, passengers were allowed to select their own seats. I opted for the first forward-facing seat on the right side of the aircraft.
The inside of the aircraft was arranged in what looks more like a private aircraft rather than a commercial aircraft, which makes sense as the airline’s motto is “Fly Private for the Cost of Commercial.”
After boarding, we had a brief safety demonstration by one of the pilots and we set out to Cortez.
Following our departure from Denver, we headed southwest and climbed to 24,000 feet. While the altitude is high for a propeller aircraft, the Pilatus PC-12 is a pressurized aircraft that can fly at altitudes as high as 30,000 feet.
Almost immediately after departing, we began to cross over the Rocky Mountains. Passengers on both sides of the aircraft get an amazing view of the snow-capped mountains with clouds.
Boutique Air offers a nice selection of complimentary snacks and drinks that are located in drawers near the front of the cabin. The carrier also offers AC outlets in the cabin for passengers which was a nice touch.
The rest of the flight went on normally and we began our descent into Cortez. As we got closer I really started to enjoy an aspect that you don’t see too often on commercial flights nowadays, an open door to the cockpit.
This open-door gave me and the other passengers the unique opportunity to see the runway out of the front from the comfort of our seats as we approached the airport.
Despite the bumpy approach, the pilots managed to make a smooth touch down into the airport. Upon arrival at the airport, the terminal building in the small city gave off a southwestern Colorado feel.
A Boutique Air representative met us at the aircraft and escorted us inside. As I was the only passenger continuing onto Phoenix I was led to the post-security waiting area so I wouldn’t have to go through security again.
From the waiting area, I gained an amazing view of the aircraft we flew in on with the hills behind it, which is what this area is well known for.
Boarding commenced and I headed back out to the same aircraft. I opted for a seat on the left side for this leg in order to get a view of the Colorado scenery as we departed.
Again the crew went over the safety features of the aircraft and we taxied to the runway. We had to back-taxi to get to our takeoff position as parts of the airport were under construction.
My seat selection definitely didn’t let me down and I was given a spectacular view of the hills and ground below as we took off from the small Colorado airport.
Not more than ten minutes after departing, the scenery began to slowly change from green and snowcapped mountainous to red desert-like terrain as we passed over the four corners of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
About 25-minutes after departure, still climbing up to our cruising altitude of 23,000-feet, passengers on the left side of the aircraft got to see a landmark, Shiprock.
Shiprock is a monadnock (muh-nad-nock) that rises just over 1,580-feet above the desert plain. It’s located within the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico.
After about 35-minutes went by we were over the desert of northern Arizona. One of the passengers on the other side of the aircraft nicely pointed out a meteor crater on that side that I might like to see.
The crater is known as the “Barringer Crater” in honor of Daniel Barringer who in 1903 was the first to suggest it was produced by an iron-metallic meteorite.
The crater has a diameter of 0.737 miles and is located 37-miles east of Flagstaff, Ariz. in Coconino County, Ariz. and is the best-preserved meteorite crater on the planet. This landmark is over 50,000-years-old and is 560-feet deep.
Shortly after seeing the crater, we began our descent into the Phoenix area. As we approached the airport, the red scenery slowly turned into small towns and villages which eventually turned into the Phoenix suburbs.
The landing into Sky Harbor was smooth given the rather rough approach into the area. After parking, I stepped out into the sweltering 105 degrees Fahrenheit heat on the ramp.
Due to construction at the airport, we parked at a remote stand and were then taken to the terminal by a Boutique Air van, which had amazing air conditioning compared to the temperatures outside.
The van brought us to Sky Harbor’s Terminal 3, more specifically gate F13 which is where you will find the airline’s flights back to Cortez, Colo. and the other destination the carrier offers from its Arizona base; Show Low, Ariz.
The nonstop flight between Denver and Phoenix is served by four airlines; American, Frontier, United and Southwest Airlines.
But if you’re not in a hurry and you enjoy amazing views, take the route less traveled and hop on a Boutique Air flight via Cortez, Colo. and you won’t regret it. While it may not be the quickest option, it is definitely an enjoyable one.
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