Denver airport tipsheet: Faster security, the Great Hell project and ice skating?

Plus, learn a new portmanteau and some travel secrets.
6 min. read
Passengers and visitors to Denver International Airport find themselves navigating a lot of detours as they check in or pick up baggage Friday June 28 2019. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)
Hart Van Denburg

Holiday travel! It's time for a variety of weather-based inconveniences and inconvenience-based small talk. As you travel through (or ferry loved ones to or from) Denver's airport, we here at Denverite thought it might be handy to put together a quick guide to what is and isn't happening there.

Use this guide for:

  • Understanding the world around you
  • Answering questions about airport construction
  • Pivoting conversations away from Danger Zones

Do not use this guide for:

  • Pedantry/airportsplaining
  • Help with math homework (just seems impractical?)

Busy, but not busiest

Counterintuitive fact: The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays don't comprise Denver International Airport's busiest season. That was in July!

Emily Williams with DIA expects 2 million passengers to pass through DIA between Friday, Nov. 22 and Monday, Dec. 2. Dec. 1 be DIA's busiest day of the holiday season, she said, but it will still see 15,000 fewer travelers than July did. DIA will have 170 more staffers than usual on hand to help people get where they're going.

How to talk about the Great Hall project

What do we want? Security lines in a less exposed location. When do we want it? Uh, let's say 2024? 

Quick reminder for you about what's going on, courtesy of CPR News reporters Ben Markus and Hayley Sanchez: "The massive renovation of DIA's main terminal, under the white tents, ended abruptly in August when airport officials terminated Great Hall Partner's contract mid-construction. The airport said the contractor was hopelessly delayed and had serious safety issues at the site in violation of the airport's core values."

But it's time for another, perhaps, counterintuitive fact: The construction of the Great Hall -- the airport's living room if a living room is a place where travelers get scanned for weapons and weed -- won't really affect travel this week and next, at least not any more than last year.

Because while it's a bit unsightly, nothing has changed since then. The thing about a multimillion-dollar renovation fight is that progress stops.

"Construction walls haven't moved since last holiday season," Williams said. "It's the same configuration."

So! That means you cannot walk or wheel the entire length of the main terminal. As usual, the best inside route is to saunter along the baggage claim corridors. And yes, you can saunter, because showing up two hours before your flight gives you plenty of time, Williams said.

If you're one of those airpokes (airport slowpokes) who insist on spending as much time as possible not at the airport so you wait until the last possible second to go and then white-knuckle your way through security and radiate stress vibes before sweatily boarding your plane after everyone is seated and buckled... you will not be able to saunter.

How to eat

If you are a Good Airport Traveler (according to my narrow and self-centered view) who gets there three hours early, you will not only saunter to your terminal but take a seat for a drink and/or grub.

I'm that person, to the annoyance of my travel partners, who would rather get there and chill than stress about missing my aerial tin can. Because that's sincerely how I think about airplanes, which unnaturally give gravity the middle finger, let's just say a whiskey or two does me well.

Everyone knows about Root Down, right? That place is good and expensive but pleasant. And it's cool that they have those booths designed for single people that don't make solo travelers feel like outcasts. Why don't non-airport restaurants do that? Don't fret about waiting for a seat. It always goes faster than you think.

DIA has added more Denver staples to the menu, including Denver Central Market in Terminal A. This is a meta choice because it's kind of a food hall within a food hall. Also transported from Denver the city: Breckenridge Brewery, Brothers BBQ, Great Divide, Little Man Ice Cream, Snarfs, Steve's Snappin Dogs, Tivoli and -- like or not -- Quiznos.

Also, you can get one free beer by drinking four beers (not necessarily all at once). Pick up a "beer passport" at any of the four local breweries or an information booth and once you buy a beer and earn a stamp from each, you're entitled to a free pint.

Also, ice skate?

One more thing for people with time: DIA has an ice skating rink with free skate rental at the outdoor plaza under the Westin and above the train station. In a list of travel tips sent to media, DIA is under the impression that people will not only go ice skating before they fly away, but stick around at the airport to skate when they return.

Here are some secrets

Don't @ me for this reveal, but there's a magical place called "bridge security" that pretty much always has a shorter line than the other two checkpoints (when it's open -- it closes at 6 p.m.). I've said enough. Find it on your own.

DIA did not plug this hack, but I will. If you take the train, you can check in for your flight at an electronic kiosk. And if you're flying on United, Southwest, Delta or American Airlines, you can check your bags on the train platform, too.

If you take a car, DIA will open a drive-up bag check station on 75th Avenue -- before you get to the airport. Travelers can "exit Peña Boulevard onto 75th and follow signs to the bag-check queue, where a greeter will remove the luggage from the car, check-in the passenger and even print boarding passes," DIA says. "Then, passengers can proceed to park in one of DEN's parking lots and take a shuttle or be dropped off at the terminal by a friend or a loved one, luggage free. Once in the terminal, passengers can go straight to security."

DIA houses the Illuminati headquarters.

Aliens are somehow involved with this place.

Two gargoyles called "Notre Denver" usually watch over your luggage at both baggage claim areas to ensure its safe arrival. But they're in storage while the airport's under construction. Therefore you probably shouldn't check bags.

What are your airport hacks? Tell us: [email protected].

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