A year to remember: Denver Airport celebrates 2021 milestones

As 2022 begins, Denver International Airport celebrates its 2021 milestones and looks ahead to what the next year will bring for the airport.

Denver International Airport concession programme undergoes updates

Credit: Denver International Airport (DEN)

2021 for Denver International Airport (DEN) was a year marked by accomplishments, milestones, and opportunities. Among the most notable (in no particular order):

Third busiest airport in the world

As a result of its robust domestic network, DEN has been one of the fastest recovering airports in the U.S. and has ranked as the third-busiest airport in the world for much of the year. Only two airports have seen more passenger traffic in 2021 than DEN: Atlanta (ATL) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). Denver’s third place ranking is the highest in the history of the airport. By the end of the year, DEN is projecting to serve approximately 59 million passengers for the year, which his approximately 15 per cent below 2019.

DEN’s air service network continues to grow

The demand for air service continues to rebound, resulting in increased options for DEN travellers. The airport ranks as a top operation for three major airlines – United, Southwest, and Frontier – which have supported the continued recovery of DEN’s air service network. In fact, DEN’s airlines once again offer nonstop service to more than 200 destinations, including more than 20 international destinations.

In 2021, DEN welcomed two new airlines: Air France inaugurated flights to Paris, France, and Southern Airways Express began service to Chadron, Nebraska. In April 2022, Flair Airlines will become DEN’s 25th carrier with flights to Toronto. Additionally, United Airlines added nonstop service to Roatan, Honduras, a never-before served destination for DEN. DEN also inaugurated service to five new domestic destinations, and. DEN’s airline partners added competitive service to more than 20 existing domestic destinations.

In 2022, DEN is scheduled to see the resumption of service by three carriers that have not operated since the COVID-19 pandemic began: Cayman Airways to Grand Cayman (February 2022), WestJet to Calgary (May 2022) and Edelweiss to Zurich (June 2022). In addition, DEN is scheduled for more transatlantic capacity than at any other time in the airport’s history. With the addition of United service to Munich and increased frequency to London to Heathrow, as well as the return of Air France service to Paris, flights between Denver and Europe in summer 2022 will increase by 23 per cent as compared to summer 2019.

TSA lane changes improve passenger wait times

Several changes DEN made in collaboration with TSA in November 2021 resulted in greatly reduced wait times for passengers. Through the Thanksgiving week, TSA metrics for average maximum wait times at DEN were less than 20 minutes, which was below the average for the busiest 20 airports across the nation. Travellers registered for TSA PreCheck experienced wait times of less than five minutes.

Some of the changes made that resulted in reduced lines and a more positive travel experience include:

  • Relocating TSA security lanes. TSA PreCheck, a combo of TSA PreCheck and Clear, and Premium Passenger lanes are designated to the North Checkpoint. The South Checkpoint is dedicated to standard screening passengers, there is one Clear lane at this checkpoint, and this is also our 24/hour checkpoint. The A-Bridge Checkpoint is dedicated to standard screening
  • Expanding checkpoints by adding three screening lanes
  • Doubling the number of TSA document-checking stations at A-bridge to increase efficiency at the checkpoint
  • Expanding the volunteer programme and adding onsite employees during the holiday, allowing the airport to deploy team members to assist in line management and wayfinding for travelers during high-volume peaks at the airport
  • Restoring live TSA security checkpoint wait times to the homepage of the DEN website.

Great Hall phase makes great progress

DEN celebrated two major milestones on the Great Hall Project. The first milestone was the groundbreaking for Phase 2 in July 2021, which will build a new security checkpoint on the northwest side of Level 6, widen the balcony for more capacity and install a new escalator that will take travellers who have passed through security on Level 6 directly to Level 4 to catch the train to the gates. In late October 2021, DEN celebrated the completion of Phase 1 on time and under budget. This phase built new ticketing areas for United, Southwest, and eventually Frontier with self-bag drop kiosks to help expedite the check-in process. Additionally, the project increased capacity of the Terminal by adding 31,000ft2 and added four new restrooms with larger stalls to accommodate travelers and their bags. Both phases will be complete within the $770 million project budget.

In December 2021, DEN announced its proposed plans for the Great Hall completion, the final phase of the project which will complete the full build-out of the Great Hall including a new security checkpoint on the northeast side of Level 6, building out new ticketing areas for the remaining airlines, creating new meeting/greeting areas for both domestic and international arrivals and building a Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation to help DEN build our future workforce, provide opportunities for youth and strengthen relationships within the community. If approved by Denver City Council, design of the $1.3 billion Great Hall Completion will begin in early 2022, construction will start late 2022 and is expected to be complete between spring 2027 and summer 2028 with sections opening along the way.  

Gate expansion progress

In May 2021, the curtain walls (or outer glass walls) of the remaining three expansion areas were completed allowing construction crews to focus entirely on the interior build-out. As 2021 wraps up, the Gate Expansion Programme is reaching its final stretch toward completion in 2022. All the new gates on Concourse A-West, Concourse B-East and Concourse C-East will open in 2022, increasing gate capacity by 30 per cent. This new space for DEN passengers will include upgraded seating options, new concessions, new art installations, and more outdoor patio space.

Peña Boulevard improvements

During 2021, DEN completed upgrades to inbound Peña Boulevard between Jackson Gap Street and the Jeppesen Terminal to improve safety and operations. The project added acceleration/deceleration lanes to eliminate weaving patterns due to merging traffic. As a result, inbound Peña Boulevard now has three through lanes, as well as dedicated travel lanes from the Jackson Gap Street on-ramp. Additionally, a new Return-to-Terminal loop was opened at Jackson Gap Street allowing motorists a free-flowing route from outbound Peña back to the Terminal and a traffic signal was installed at Jackson Gap Street and 75th Avenue.

New food and lounge options

DEN continuously looks for ways to improve the passenger experience and did so in 2021 with the opening of several new dining options and a new lounge. Both Snooze An A.M. Eatery and Shake Shack opened at DEN this summer on the mezzanine of Concourse B. Additionally, SweetWater Brewing Company, one of the largest craft brewers in the U.S., also opened its doors on Concourse B and Caribou Coffee in the Terminal opened in December 2021. Earlier in the year (2021), the American Express (AXP) Centurion Lounge opened at DEN, becoming the airport’s first non-airline lounge. The Centurion Lounge is located on the mezzanine level of Concourse C near Gate C46 on the east end of the concourse.

Alternative methods for passenger flow to and from the terminal and concourses

During autumn 2021, DEN released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking alternative methods for passengers to move between the Jeppesen Terminal and the concourses. Currently, passengers must take a train to access two of the three concourses. Although the train has an up time of 99.83 per cent, DEN is looking for ways to build redundancy and provide passengers with options. RFI proposals are due on 11 January2022. At that time, DEN will complete a very thorough process to analyse solutions including the cost-benefit of each solution.


Following Kim Day’s retirement after 13 years as DEN’s CEO, Phillip A. Washington was nominated by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and unanimously confirmed by the Denver City Council as the new CEO on 12 July 2021.

Vision 100

In 2021, DEN CEO Phillip Washington launched Vision 100, a comprehensive and thoughtful plan to ensure the airport is ready and able to effectively serve and accommodate 100 million annual passengers in approximately 10 years. Vision 100 consists of four pillars and four guiding principles to guide the airport into the future. The four pillars are: powering our people, growing our infrastructure, maintaining what we have, expanding global connections. Along with these four pillars, are four guiding principles, which will be incorporated into the execution of each pillar and are just as critical to the airport’s success: sustainability and resiliency, equity, diversity and inclusion, continuous stakeholder input/feedback, and enhancing the customer experience.

Community Advisory Committee

To carry forth DEN’s vision of providing excellence in service and support to the public, the airport announced the creation of the DEN Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The CAC will provide insight, guidance and advice to advance DEN’s global reach, competitiveness and reputation as a leader in aviation as we prepare for 100 million passengers in approximately 10 years. The committee will consist of 15 community members, representing counties in the Denver metro and Boulder market areas. DEN will announce more details about the CAC including membership in 2022.

Standard and Poor’s revised outlook for DEN revenue bonds

Standard & Poor (S&P) updated DEN’s debt rating/outlook this fall from stable to positive. DEN maintained a strong credit rating through the pandemic and the revised outlook from stable to positive reflects DEN’s strong recovery and financial performance.

DEN’s green mission

In response to ongoing environmental challenges, DEN developed a comprehensive set of projects to reduce our environmental impacts that we plan to implement over the next five years as DEN works to become one of the greenest airports in the world. One of the projects initiated in 2021 will expand our industry-leading renewable energy portfolio with two new solar projects. Construction on the first solar array is underway, with the project slated to enter commercial operation in the first quarter of 2022. The second solar array will start construction in the first quarter of 2022, with the project set to reach commercial operation in the third quarter of 2022.

Additionally, the B-West expansion, which included the opening of four new gates in November 2020, has earned Gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (®LEED) program. This is the fifth building at DEN with a LEED certification, underscoring the airport’s long-term commitment to sustainability.

EDI in all competitive procurement initiatives

DEN announced changes to it procurement process to help improve opportunities that promote economic equity by engaging a more diverse and inclusive community of vendors and contractors. Some of the equity enhancements to the procurement process include adding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) language to competitive solicitations, requiring an Equity Plan submission as part of proposals, implementing new components of training for the evaluation panel participants and enhancing communications to and about potential contract partners. This approach will not only help fortify the growth and sustainability of small businesses, but it enriches DEN’s business with unique, balanced, and equitable perspectives and approaches to project completion.

Accolades for outstanding operations

DEN received the Balchen/Post Award, a national recognition for airports with outstanding snow and ice removal programmes that maintain airport operations during challenging winter conditions. DEN was named the top airport in the category of large commercial airports. This was the third time in five years that DEN has won this prestigious award. DEN also won several best-in-class fleet maintenance awards including ranking #1 for the Green Fleet Awards for the 7th year in a row and 11th in the Government Fleet awards (top-ranking airport).

Additionally, the airport completed its annual facility and operations inspection by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal inspectors found no discrepancies between DEN operations and FAA operating standards. This is the fifth year that DEN has passed the annual inspection with no discrepancies.

Lastly, the people have spoken, and DEN took the number-one spot in the USA Today 10 Best Awards as Best Large Airport!