Denver International Airport will soon be slammed with Thanksgiving travelers. And while the holiday is full of uncertainty — will the weather suck? Will you again get into a fight with your crazy aunt about Donald Trump? — Mile High travelers can rest assured that, unlike that dry-ass turkey, their airport won't let them down. On November 14, the Wall Street Journal ranked DIA as the best airport in the U.S.
"Once a symbol of high cost and dysfunction, Denver soared in rankings of reliability, value and convenience," wrote the WSJ's Scott McCartney.
We polled our well-traveled writers, asking for all the reasons they love DIA. Here are the top ten:
1. Conspiracy Theories
Even before Denver International Airport opened — after years of delays — conspiracies were flying. All those underground tunnels? Concentration camps for Martians or, worse, citizens deemed undesirable by the Illuminati or Freemasons or New World Order. How else to explain the fact that the group charged with throwing the opening birthday bash for the facility (a few years too early, it turned out) worked under the name New World Airport Commission, as commemorated by a plaque in the place? And did those delays result from stall tactics caused by the spirits of Native Americans stirred up when the airport was built on an old Indian graveyard? And what about the shape of the airport: swastika? Male genitalia? The conspiracy theories just keep taking off.
Denver International Airport's art does more than promote those conspiracy theories. Leo Tanguma's murals have been cited as supporting the New World Order connection, and sculptor Luis Jiménez was killed by his own piece, "Mustang," aka Blucifer. While "Mustang" has become the most loved/loathed piece of public art in Denver, other works, such as those gargoyles overseeing the baggage claim and Gary Sweeney's "America, Why I Love Her," are simply loved. Because of Denver's 1 percent for art program, the airport opened with a collection worth millions, and millions more will be spent on new art to go with the current remodeling project. Let's just hope that all of the art now in "storage" reappears when the work is done.
Whether you're trying to find your terminal, pick up your checked bag or just find a restroom, airport signs the world over will send you on a wild goose chase or leave you so confused that you might as well give up. Perhaps it's because of DIA's unique layout or the train from security to terminal gates, but signage around Denver's airport seems to be helpful (construction has mucked up some of it, but not terribly). If you don't believe us, try leaving the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport or finding your checked luggage at Midway in Chicago without lapping the whole place a few times.
Editor's note: Because this proved to be the most contentious item on this list, we're giving the main dissenter, Westword fellow Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, some space to gripe:
The lack of clear signage at DIA is a disaster. It's far too easy to get lost in the airport, and that's coming from a New Yorker. New York airports may be ranked at the bottom of the Wall Street Journal's list, but at least we instruct our visitors how to get around our crumbling airports. DIA ought to hire a consulting firm to help fix this problem. If it doesn't, it's only a matter of time before someone has a crippling panic attack. Hello, lawsuit.
4. Pet Therapy
Your dog or cat can't get therapy at the airport, but humans can relax by spending time with a temporary canine or feline companion as part of DIA's CATS (Canine Airport Therapy Squad) program, which maintains a militia of more than 100 dogs and one cat that roam the concourses (with a two-legged companion, of course) in search of animal lovers in need. Just look for the furry friends in blue plaid "Pet Me" vests and grab a quick cuddle to ease the stress of air travel.
5. Colorado-Made Food and Booze
DIA is a second home for several Colorado craft breweries, including New Belgium, Boulder Beer, Denver ChopHouse and the brand-new Tivoli Brewing inside the Westin Hotel beyond the south end of Jeppesen Terminal. How Colorado is that? And since you'll need some food to go with your beer, seek out a variety of eats at the new Denver Central Market, a miniature version of the RiNo food hall of the same name — with pizza and pasta from Vero, sandwiches and charcuterie from Culture Meat & Cheese, sushi from Sushi-Rama and rotisserie chicken and burgers from SK Provisions. Other Colorado originals at DIA include Elway's, Snarf's, Root Down (a perennial Best of Denver winner) and Tamales by La Casita. Now if only there were a dispensary, it would feel just like downtown.
6. Braving Bad Weather
Helped out by six long runways, including America's longest commercial runway (16R/34L), Denver is better equipped to handle adverse weather than most other major American airports. Often, winds can reduce airports to just one or two operational runways, meaning planes have to take off and land on the same runway, which just piles up the delays. Denver has four north-south-oriented and two east-west-oriented runways, helping ease congestion even in unfavorable weather.
There might appear to be some crossover between the stores at DIA and those at a mall, but when the best options at most airports boil down to the ubiquitous Hudson shops, DIA’s shopping options seem both smart and consumer-friendly, the Body Shop, LEGO, Tumi, MAC, Bose, Kiehl’s and Urban Decay among them. Add in the local flavor provided by storefronts such as the Tattered Cover, Climax Jerky and Taspen’s Organics, and you’ll find plenty of distractions if your flight is delayed or you have a few minutes to kill before boarding.
8. Tent Roof
Over the oast two decades, the tent roof soaring above the Jeppesen Terminal — representing mountains, tipis, or just a smart solution by architect Curt Fentress when confronted with time and budget constraints — has become iconic around the country and provided a symbol for the airport's logo. Although we're wary that much of the space below that roof will be sectioned off in the current remodel into a massive shopping mall, off limits to everyone but travelers who've passed through security, we know that as long as the tent roof lasts, things will always be looking up at Denver International Airport.
9. Baggage Check
Few things are more stressful than having to check bags at an airport, especially if you're the type who likes to show up with just enough time to make your way through security and to your gate. Recognizing this, the smart folks at DIA decided to offer free bag drop and check-in services for domestic travelers at the Transit Center and Pikes Peak and Mt. Elbert shuttle lots. Drop your bags ninety minutes before your flight at the designated drop-off points, and enjoy all the time you've just saved.
10. A Line
No, the A Line between the airport and Union Station hasn't been completely reliable, but with construction starting on I-70, the train to the plane will look better and better to travelers connecting between the airport, downtown and beyond. The escalator leading from the airport plaza to the train platform is a thrill ride in itself, and passengers going the distance exit right into Union Station, an increasingly impressive part of downtown.
Certainly you have opinions, good and bad, about our airport. Let us know what they are in a comment or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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