A SOARING PAYROLL
Bill Loeffler first stepped into an airport information booth in 1986. He's stayed there for one reason: public contact.
"I see everybody I've ever known in my life at least once a year," Loeffler says. "I'm 65 years old, and I still see people I knew in high school. There aren't many jobs you can say that about."
Lately, though, Loeffler has been seeing less of the public and more of his bosses. And there are more bosses to see. Thanks to a major reorganization of its passenger-services department, on most days Denver International Airport is operating fewer information booths than Stapleton did, making travel a bit more baffling for first-timers trying to connect with the right flight, train or baggage carousel. At the same time, however, the number of administrators, office staff and supervisory personnel in passenger services has almost doubled since 1992.
Touted as a masterpiece of aviation design, DIA was supposed to more than offset its $5 billion price tag with its many built-in efficiencies. But after six months of operation, many of the airport's anticipated benefits have yet to materialize. Ticket prices are up; passenger volume is down; and while overall revenues have increased sharply, so have expenses, to the extent that net income for the first six months of 1995 is less than half what it was for Stapleton during the same period last year.
Staffing is up, too--from 735 full- and part-time city employees at Stapleton in 1993 to 822 at DIA last month. DIA officials account for the increase by pointing to the maintenance demands of the five-million-square-foot facility. But maintenance is only part of the story of personnel costs at DIA, where the city payroll has climbed to $2.2 million per month, versus $1.7 million at Stapleton in 1993.
Two years ago Stapleton provided four information booths, staffed by eighteen clerks and one supervisor, for harried passengers. But in May 1993, in anticipation of the move to DIA, responsibility for the booths was transferred from the airport's public-affairs office to operations and was merged with paging services (those disembodied voices that direct you to a white courtesy telephone). Consequently, "booth people" like Loeffler were "cross-trained" and now alternate between answering passengers' questions and staffing the paging center, a windowless room located in the bowels of the airport.
The new "operations communications and information subdivision" now operates just two booths full-time, one in the main terminal and one on Concourse C. (The booth on the A concourse is staffed sporadically, while the B concourse booth is operated by the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.) Although the overall number of "passenger service representatives" in the department remains roughly the same, the number of people who actually serve the public in the booths has dropped, while the group overseeing the combined operation now includes six supervisors, an office manager, a staff assistant, a full-time trainer and an administrative manager, all under the direction of aviation communications manager Rowena Thomas.
"It's bureaucracy run amok down here," complains one clerk, who requests anonymity.
Both Thomas and city aviation manager Jim DeLong defend the merger as a more effective use of resources. In a four-page fax to Westword, Thomas noted that DIA's information booths are open longer hours than those at Stapleton and that one of Stapleton's four booths was open only at peak hours--much like the booth on Concourse A, which has carried less passenger traffic than expected since Continental Airlines curtailed its Denver hub operation. Her office hasn't received any complaints about the arrangement, Thomas added, from passengers or concessionaires.
Thomas also denied any "significant increase" in supervisory personnel. "We have not added clerks; we have drawn from existing resources," she wrote.
But what Thomas describes as "doing more with less," some employees consider doing less with more. Several passenger-service representatives have been reassigned to clerical work and to staffing the reception area of DIA's administrative offices, and workers say that leaves paging and information services shorthanded--except on Wednesdays. Because of an overlap in the department's ten-hours-a-day, four-days-a-week shifts, passengers have their pick of up to five clerks in the main terminal booth in the middle of the week.
Loeffler says he'd prefer to send clerks elsewhere on Wednesdays to avoid packing the booths. "It looks like a cocktail party otherwise," he says. "It's just not a professional appearance, with five people in a booth. One to two people at a time is definitely adequate."
Thomas concedes that the "appearance of too many [DIA employees] in a booth during a lull in activity may be of concern to an observer," but she says the schedule overlap allows for additional training and other projects.
Other employees complain, though, about the passenger-service representatives' diminishing contact with passengers. Grouses one worker, "I don't know what some of these people do around here anymore.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.