Even as Denver International Airport pushes forward with its South Terminal expansion, it's updating parts of the airport that were outdated almost from the day DIA opened in 1995. The toll booths on Pena Boulevard proved a real bottleneck; they were moved closer to the parking garages, and the area to the side turned into a cell-phone waiting lot. And last week, DIA finally replaced that space with Final Approach, the new cell-phone parking lot by the Conoco off Pena Boulevard -- complete with indoor bathrooms.
Final Approach also boasts a children's area, video screens with flight information, four food court vendors, and even a 24-7 Dunkin' Donuts drive-through. But sadly, those bathrooms aren't 24-7.
The city approved Final Approach in March 2012; Pacific Convenience and Fuels, which runs the nearby Conoco gas station, convenience store, car wash and Wendy's, invested about $4.5 million on the waiting-area project; its first year of sales is projected at $2.8 million. DIA will receive 15 percent of the food court gross sales, while the city's sales tax take is estimated at $112,000 per year. "Denver International Airport continuously strives to offer world-class amenities for its customers," Chief Commercial Officer John Ackerman told council members when the plan was presented. "It also makes good business sense to place the 45-minute waiting area near modern amenities."
But those modern amenities aren't available round-the-clock, as drivers are now discovering.
There's no shortage of signage pointing drivers to the new cell-phone lot, which has plenty of parking and outdoor seating, and the indoor waiting lobby at Final Approach is indeed a modern, shining facility. At 10 p.m. on Friday, it was brightly lit, beckoning those drivers to come in and set a spell while they waited for the call from their passengers. Just one problem: The doors were locked.
Aside from that 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru, the food court is only open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- and when those operators end service, it turns out the entire lobby is locked, if still lit. So drivers can't get to those fancy flight-info screens, can't get to the bathrooms.
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There's no sign on the door to indicate hours, no indication of where a driver might go for some relief. I watched a dozen people make that sad discovery as I sat in the lot for an hour Friday night, waiting for a call from a late JetBlue flight.
Finally, one frustrated fellow decided to use the side of the Final Approach building for his final relief.
At least the old lot had porta-potties, even if it lacked all those modern amenities you can only gaze at through glass from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. But there is an option. "The restrooms are open at the Conoco 24/7," says DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery. "We have limited traffic overnight generally."
Tell that to the folks waiting Friday night. Bring back the portapotties.
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