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Denver International Airport
DIA is making way for European-style queues. Image courtesy of Denver International Airport
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DIA Is Getting Faster, European-Style Security Checkpoints

The $170 million project is part of the airport’s $770 million Great Hall terminal overhaul.

Denver International Airport is now the third-busiest airport in the country—and it’s only going to get busier. That’s why crews are starting work on a new state-of-the-art security checkpoint this month, kicking off the second phase of the airport’s $770 million Great Hall renovation project.

Set to open in 2024, the new $170 million checkpoint in Jeppesen Terminal will offer more privacy and (fingers-crossed) shorter wait times. That’s largely due to the European-style queuing system that groups passengers together, says Michael Sheehan, a senior vice president who oversees infrastructure and special projects at the airport. “Instead of standing in a queue of 200-plus people, it will be a much more discreet experience,” Sheehan says. “You will be assigned a vestibule that’s assigned to a security lane that you will stand in with up to 30 to 40 people versus a couple hundred.”

If all goes to plan, in three years, passengers will be able to use the new 17-lane security area in the northwest corner of Level 6, as well as the existing north checkpoint on Level 5 and the bridge area on Level 6, all of which are managed by the Transportation Security Administration. The new checkpoint will eventually replace the south security checkpoint in the Great Hall, freeing up that space for yet-to-be-determined uses.

The airport added its three security areas after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Over the last 20 years, airport and federal security officials have made do with these ad hoc checkpoints, but say it’s time to add a modern, purpose-built security area to the Mile High City’s increasingly busy airport. “Our existing security checkpoints were an after-thought or a reaction to 9/11, and the Great Hall was not designed and constructed for the security that you see in two-thirds of the Level 5 atrium today,” says Sheehan. “They were sort of shoe-horned in there. This will greatly improve and streamline the customer experience.”

DIA is launching this second phase of the Great Hall project while crews continue work on the first phase, an overhaul of Southwest and United airlines’ ticketing areas that will incorporate automated self-bag drops to help speed up the check-in process. The revamped ticketing areas are on track to reopen before Thanksgiving, though the airlines may need a little more time to transition into their new spaces, Sheehan says. The first phase of the project is roughly $25 million under budget, and airport officials decided to run the two projects concurrently to help save more money and time.

The project, which began in 2018, has not been without challenges. In August 2019, the airport fired its contractor Great Hall Partners because of delays, potential cost overruns, and other work-related issues. The airport is now working with Greeley-based construction company Hensel Phelps, and airport leaders say they’re optimistic about the fresh start and new partnership. “We’re really excited about what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going with Phase 2,” Sheehan says. Airport leaders hope to someday transform the Great Hall into a Union Station-esque destination for travelers and non-travelers alike. “We really see a lot of opportunity there when you don’t have the security checkpoints.”

Ultimately, airport leaders hope to build a second new security area on Level 6 that will eliminate the need for both existing checkpoints in the Great Hall. In order for that third phase of the project to become a reality, though, the airport needs approval from Denver City Council. The timeline for proposing a potential third phase is still murky as the airport currently onboards its new CEO, Phil Washington, who led Colorado’s Regional Transportation District.

That goal is a long way off, but even in its current iteration, airport leaders say the Great Hall renovation project will help them better serve an anticipated 80 million annual passengers in the coming years. (The airport was built in 1995 to accommodate 50 million passengers; in 2019, more than 69 million people traveled through DIA.) By 2040, the number of passengers expected to pass through the airport’s doors is about 110 million. Time to queue up.

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