Ready to carry on

DIA, Fron­tier have load of fliers and bag­gage to han­dle

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul and Em­i­lie Rusch

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

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