The stodgy Wall Street Journal also did its part to rain on Denver's parade, running an article titled "More Good Reasons Not to Fly Into Denver." The story detailed parking problems at the airport, sky-high cab fares, the increased difficulty of renting a car and the fact that the nearest gas station was fifteen miles hence. Such negative thinking, however, didn't stop Mayor Webb and other city officials from busting a gut with pride on opening day. City councilwoman Joyce Foster was determined to stay awake all night while awaiting the first passenger flight, a United hop from Colorado Springs. "How many times are you going to be alive at the opening of a new airport?" she asked. Webb took dead aim at his critics, crowing to the hordes of international media assembled for the occasion, "The next time someone tells you something negative about DIA, tell 'em to go stuff it, because we did it."

When those same reporters and TV crews flocked around the gate where the first flight was to arrive, though, things didn't go quite as positively as Webb had hoped. After the 737 landed, ground crews discovered that the jetway at the appointed gate had frozen stiff, sending the media scurrying to an adjoining gate. Elsewhere at the airport, a fight broke out between cable TV mogul Bill Daniels and Denver Post chairman William Dean "Dinky" Singleton over who had made the first general-aviation landing at the facility. Both millionaires had flown over from Centennial Airport in private jets to christen the new airfield with $1,000 magnums of champagne, but Singleton took home the first prize after Daniels made the mistake of landing just after midnight, before the Federal Aviation Administration's official 6 a.m. opening time.

The first international flight to arrive was a Martinair plane from Holland, which quickly disgorged seven members of a Dutch fraternity who marched through the aisles arm in arm, wearing matching orange shirts and cowboy hats and singing at the top of their lungs. It was a dramatic performance perhaps matched only by that of former Denver mayor Federico Pena, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to attend a private party thrown by Park Hill residents. Intoned Pena, "Today we made history. World history." Later the nation's transportation secretary traveled to the airport control tower to welcome the first incoming flight. "Welcome to the city that dared to imagine a great airport," he told the United pilot.

The city hadn't imagined the traffic jam that piled up at the airport's toll gates. Officials blamed the twelve-to-fifteen-car lines on "looky-loos" who had driven out to see the new structure. Complained airport spokesman Chuck Cannon, "We didn't have enough flights in here to account for that type of traffic, so it had to be them." And Cannon had a point. The day after DIA opened, a large United Methodist agency announced it wouldn't relocate to Denver because DIA doesn't have enough direct international flights.

But the final word--and official version for the history books--was left to United Airlines executive Stephen Steers. Opening day, said the airline honcho, whose giant carrier now has a lock on 70 percent of the passenger traffic in and out of Denver, went "flawlessly."

end of part 1

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