DIA aims for no meltdown this winter; More snow-removal equipment, new airline procedures in place

In the years before DIA opened, city officials touted the airport as an all-weather marvel capable of operating normally "in anything short of a total whiteout." Even during a blizzard, they boasted, Denver International Airport would run as...


* ENHANCED COLLABORATION New policies and procedures will allow the airport to work more closely with the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines, RTD and other organizations. That includes 5 a.m. conference calls with the FAA and follow-up teleconferences every two hours when weather conditions warrant. The airport also will hold critique sessions with stakeholders before and after significant events.

* REALLOCATION OF WORKERS DIA will put a high-level operations executive in the airport control tower during snowstorms, which will bridge communication between crews on the airfield, the FAA and the rest of the airport. It also will dedicate more workers to specific tasks - such as clearing snow in parking lots or on Pena Boulevard - rather than having them responsible for multiple areas.

* ADDITIONAL EMPLOYEES The airport has tripled the number of workers available for snow-related tasks. It will have up to 490 people available each shift to run snow-removal equipment at peak periods, up from 190 in 2006.

* NEW EQUIPMENT DIA is doubling its snow-removal and related equipment. That includes 26 additional snowplows and seven snow-melters, which are much more efficient than plows because the snow doesn't have to be hauled away. In coming years the airport also will add 37 pieces of multifunctional equipment that incorporates a snowplow, broom and blower. It also now has a dedicated staff that will focus on clearing parking lots and other specific areas.

* FEWER PRIORITY AREAS The airport has reduced its priority areas - including runways and taxiways that are critical to safe operations - by 20 percent. That equates to about 10 million square feet for the highest priority area. Having fewer priority areas allows the airport to concentrate its efforts on the most important areas.

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What airlines are doing * ADDITIONAL CHECK-IN SPACE Frontier has increased the number of ticket counters at DIA by one-third, added 69 check-in kiosks and doubled curbside check-in areas. It also has added four more areas reserved for passengers who printed their boarding passes at home but still need to check bags, and it has increased space that holds outbound luggage. United has added additional check-in kiosks, improved signage and remodeled its ticketing area. * MORE EMPLOYEES Most airlines have added customer service staff throughout the airport, particularly at ticket counters and gate areas, to help accommodate passengers. While most of the staff increases are related to simple growth, some of the new positions also are tied to lessons learned from last year's snowstorms. United has a new customer service team in its main operations center to serve customers who have experienced severe flight disruptions. * ENHANCED SOFTWARE, TECHNOLOGY Frontier is unveiling software that automatically rebooks those passengers whose flights are canceled. Passengers can then print their new boarding passes from one of the self-check-in kiosks or at home. The carrier also now allows customers the option to reprint their boarding passes before coming to the airport, which will help further shorten check-in lines. United has installed automated check-in units on its concourses so passengers that need to rebook don't have to go all the way to the main terminal. * NEW EQUIPMENT Denver's three major airlines have all added plows and related equipment to help clear snow around the gate areas. Frontier has brought on $140,000 worth of new snow-related equipment, including two trucks equipped with snow plows, six three-quarter-ton pickup trucks and several industrial snow blowers; Southwest has added new snow plows and three additional de-icing trucks and will use a second de-icing pad; United has purchased two new de-icing trucks. * ALTERED SCHEDULING Southwest has shifted how it schedules flights through Denver to create a more even flow throughout the day rather than having most flights arriving and departing in clusters. The move helps ease bottlenecks and allows the carrier to be more flexible, particularly during severe weather events. * NEW PROCEDURES United has improved its procedures to allow gate agents to move more quickly between gates. Frontier is unrolling a program that lets reservation employees field calls from home if they can't make it into call centers because of heavy snow.

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