Ready to carry on
DIA, Frontier have load of fliers and baggage to handle
On the eve of what Denver International Airport expects to be its busiest holiday travel season on record, the Transportation Security Administration said it is ready to deal with the rush of travelers and avoid a repeat of last year’s painfully long checkpoint lines — so long as passengers step up.
“We’re far better prepared from a staffing level and a resource level,” Larry Nau, TSA’s Colorado federal security director, said Monday while standing on a walkway overlooking the airport’s bustling security checkpoints.
Last Christmas, the agency had fewer people working at DIA than it was allocated, Nau said. This year, TSA has boosted staffing to deal with the 10,000 more passengers than normal who are expected to begin their travel at DIA each day around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
That includes doubling the airport’s K-9 force, which allows for expedited screening.
Lines for PreCheck travelers have been roughly two minutes long, while passengers going through DIA’s general screening lines are waiting about 16 minutes.
That’s despite a weekend that dealt a blow to carriers, prompting the cancellation of hundreds of flights and leaving hundreds of Frontier Airlines passengers stranded. About 70 percent of Frontier’s weekend flights experienced some kind of delay.
The airlines’ issues are unrelated to TSA and for Frontier, the airport’s thirdlargest carrier, are still unresolved.
Long lines persist at Frontier’s ticket counters as travelers attempt to rebook. Mountains of bags that were checked before flights were canceled over the weekend must be be sorted and reunited with their owners.
The airline completed about 80 per-
cent of its approximately 300 scheduled flights Tuesday and has returned about 500 bags in Colorado.
“We are coming out of this and returning to normal operations,” Frontier spokesman Richard Oliver said.
Frontier’s issues have not snowballed into the rest of the airport operations, DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery said.
“We have seen more people in their ticket-counter areas and baggage-claim areas and customer-service areas,” Montgomery said. “Yes, there have been some impacts, but they’ve really been contained to the Frontier operations.”
Nau said when it comes to security checkpoints, travelers can ensure the lines stay short by arriving two hours before their flight and making sure they aren’t carrying any prohibited items that could slow the screening process.
“If I could ask the community on the busier days to come to the airport — be in the airport — two hours prior to your departure, that will help us facilitate the movement through the checkpoint ,” he said.
On an average day, DIA sees about 55,000 fliers pass through TSA screening. The number is expected to climb to 65,000 during this holiday season, capping what has been a record year for the airport. A projected 57 million to 58 million pas- sengers are expected to travel through DIA by year’s end.
Friday is expected to be the busiest travel day of the holiday season, Montgomery said.
The airport began providing extra staffing at TSA security checkpoints Sunday and will continue to help through Jan. 4, Montgomery said. Airlines also are pitching in employees.
The contract workers, who also were deployed this summer and again at Thanksgiving, assist with non-security tasks such as bin management and passenger “divestment,” an industry term for preparing to go through security, freeing up TSA employees to focus on their primary job of passenger screening.
“TSA learned a lot of lessons over the summer. They’ve applied a lot of those lessons in physical changes on the ground,” Montgomery said. “Since those issues last year, we have not seen the same types of lengthy delays.”
The airport also will have customer service teams and its canine airport therapy squad in the terminals during the holiday rush, he said.
“We can never guarantee that people won’t have to wait a little longer — we’re expecting large crowds again this year — but that’s why we ask people to prepare for the screening experience, pack appropriately, get here early and generally be airport aware,” Montgomery said.
A Frontier staffer, left, checks tags on rows and rows of unclaimed baggage at Denver International Airport on Tuesday. The airline has returned about 500 bags in Colorado in the wake of Friday’s heavy snowstorm. Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Frontier Airlines passengers Rene Gilstrap, left, and her mother, Dawn Ramsden, on Tuesday explore options for a flight out of DIA to North Carolina. Their previously scheduled flight was canceled. Andy Cross, The Denver Post