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NEW DENVER AIRPORT'S WORSE THAN BAD

The meter on the cab read $8.40. That wasn't bad for a ride from the airport to downtown. Unfortunately, the fare was for the ride from the airport terminal to the end of the airport limits. Town was still 28 miles (and $33) away. And 45 minutes, to boot.

Welcome to the future of aviation. I was introduced to this version of the future when I had occasion to fly to Denver several weeks ago. I collected a full mental list of incredible examples of poor planning and grandiose overselling. I thought I had seen every possible blunder there could be in a new airport, but now I know I was wrong; a Wall Street Journal article Friday reported many of the problems I detected, plus many more.Thus, we had an airport that was so situated as to be inconvenient to automobiles, taxicabs, buses and other forms of conveyance to any populated area. Rental car agencies charge extra for returns whose tanks aren't filled, yet the nearest gas station is 15 miles away, so all tanks need to be topped off at a pricey charge. The parking lots are a mile away from anything such as a terminal. The showy canvas roof that looks like snow-packed Rockies billows in the breeze, dropping rain on the passengers below.

My thought as I considered the project as a whole: This looks as if it was designed by an architect. Or, worse yet, as if it was designed by a governmental agency, using much of your money and mine.

Remember, this is the airport that was supposed to leave the rest behind in the dust. Venerable Stapleton Airport, which is far closer to downtown, was supposed to be unable to handle the crush of future aviation traffic, so then-mayor Frederico Pena got federal aid to build a new airport 30 miles from downtown, in the middle of nowhere.

Somewhere between perception and reality, things happened. The economy took a nosedive. Costs mounted. The projected charges to airlines got so high that Continental Airlines shifted much of its hub to other cities. Thus, Denver International Airport became the first case in which the new, modern airport had fewer gates than the old-fashioned one it replaced. It begs the question of whether we needed to shut the old airport in the first place.

In keeping with modern theories about airports, the only way you can get to a plane is by first taking a train, which creates an artificial bottleneck as every passenger and greeter must be shoehorned into an inadequate number of underground rail cars. This means that during rush hour, you'll likely miss your plane unless you allow sufficient train time. Airport officials realized they needed more trains only after the airport opened; it'll take a year for any to be obtained.

Signs direct auto traffic to the east terminal or the west terminal. So some people sharing cabs split up; waving goodbye to friends getting off when the cab passes the east terminal. They sit back and the cab weaves along the road system, coming up to the west terminal. Which is really just the other side of the same building. After paying the additional cab fare they walk into the building and run into their friends, who came in on the other side.

Once people catch on to this trick, they'll save a little money on cab rides.

Inside the terminal, visitors see a grand open area. This feature means that the second floor, where major food outlets are situated, has an extremely narrow pad. Thus the lines in front of food outlets snarl traffic. It's like trying to buy a hamburger in the crowds inside an arena; it can be done, but it's going to take a while and be a hassle.

From the ground floor, patrons get cleared through security and then must take escalators down another level, to catch their trains. If they can cram onto a train. Once deposited at the proper gate concourse, patrons find they are in a building that looks awfully much like all airport gate concourses. Thus, like the repetitions of a DNA code, we find the repetitions of restrooms, lockers, snack bar, cocktail lounge and newsstand. Followed by another repetition.

Years ago I realized that the theory of progress had some problems. Denver International Airport, though lovely on the surface, proves it.